A British clothing startup, Neuba, has found itself sandwiched between a fashionable Japanese customer base on one side and traditional Indian weavers on the other.
16 Feb 2017
Neuba makes casual shirts and t-shirts using a team of eight weavers based in the Indian city of Hyderabad. The highly analogue nature of the production process has been a hit among a niche Japanese market, selling in shops with international pedigree such as United Arrows, 1LDK and Dover Street Market.
Traditional manufacturing processes, especially handcraft, have long been coveted in Japan. In recent years, a growing tranche of young Japanese consumers in particular have gone further, seeking out one-of-a-kind products, epitomised by the resurgence of the Japanese tradition of wabi-sabi, a reverence for things which are unfinished or imperfect. It’s something Neuba’s designer and founder Aldo Kahane has been keen to make the most of by highlighting the Indian weavers who make the products on his website and in the brand’s sales material. Neuba’s head weaver, Manthri Babu, even signs his name into each garment.
However, the non-mechanised nature of manufacturing clothes in India comes with some inherent problems. Flooding in Andhra Pradesh in August 2016 was the worst in 11 years, wiping out phones, internet and severely affecting the movement of people and goods.
To illustrate the kind of problems Neuba faces, Kahane says: ‘This morning I found out that one of the weavers has been resting a sprained ankle at home for the last four days and hasn’t come into the workshop. He represents 25% of our weaving for the Spring/Summer collection.’
Although Neuba’s Japanese stockists are drawn to the back story of the Indian weavers, they’re
less tolerant of the notoriously haphazard nature of Indian business. ‘The Japanese have a reputation for precision and accuracy in everything,’ says Kahane. ‘In India they have a reputation for being the opposite.’
Kahane says he is also concerned the traditional skills in Hyderabad are fading as younger generations are joining the tech boom sweeping the region.
He adds: ‘The team we’re working with are thankfully devoted to the craft and together we have been able to create new ideas using ancient techniques. It’s innovation in its purest form.’