Men’s fashion is increasingly a free-form world, with old notions of correctness and propriety tossed aside in favor of an anything-goes ethos that embraces street style and bespoke tailoring alike. And yet, taboos remain, perhaps none greater than the simple word “imported.”
Consumers understand this is a euphemism, deployed only in instances where the place of manufacture is perceived as a liability: i.e., not “Made in Italy,” “Made in the UK,” or “Made in USA,” but likely someplace in the Far East, perhaps even (gasp) China.
However, there is a new crop of brands making clothing outside of those most celebrated zones, and their wares are not being disguised under the “imported” fallacy. On the contrary, they are declaring “Made in India,” loudly and proudly.
As Moeen Lashari, founder and CEO of The Post-Romantic Co. explains, the Indian Subcontinent—a geographical grouping that includes present-day India as well as Pakistan and Bangladesh, which were considered the same nation prior to the 1947 partition—has a proud history producing textiles and clothing. Punjab, the region straddling Pakistan and India where The Post Romantic-Co. produces its handmade shirts and jackets, is where cotton was first cultivated some 8,000 years ago. By the 16th century, Indian textiles were being traded as far as Mexico.
Lashari was inspired to create the company after learning that the luxury shirts being sold at a New York boutique were being made by skilled craftspeople at home—much like in the village where he grew up. In response he founded The Post-Romantic Co., which is headquartered in New York but works with a small team of Punjabi tailors who craft shirts that bear all the handmaking hallmarks of premium-priced “luxury” shirts—like misaligned sleeves and side seams that allow for a greater range of movement—but retail for $125, rather than $600.
“We want to utilize the craft and tailoring expertise that is found ordinarily on the streets,” Lashari says of his business’s approach. While Post-Romantic Co. began with a small selection of shirts, jackets and pants, the company will soon offer suiting, a move Lashari sees as in keeping with a growing knowledge of and appreciation for traditional Indian handcraft.
“People are looking for more authentic experiences and more authentic goods,” he says. “And if some goods can be grounded in that authentic experience, I think they’re more than happy to engage with you regardless of where it is made.”
The Post-Romantic Co. is hardly alone is touting India’s craft heritage. Other examples include Eleven-Eleven, whose naturally dyed linen shirts or handspun indigo jackets strike a more avant-garde note, or Kardo, which applies traditional Indian dying, block print and embroidering methods to designs inspired by contemporary workwear. On a higher-end note, the Amsterdam-based 100 Hands works with Indian craftspeople to produce fully handmade shirts that require 32 hours of handwork per piece—and are priced to match.
The Original Madras Trading Company, meanwhile, deals in a fabric and style that may already be familiar to Western consumers: madras. Anointed by The Official Preppy Handbook and a mainstay of Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren collections for generations, the colorful textile took its name from the Indian city Madras (now known as Chennai).
For decades, the business supplied some of the biggest names in American clothing with authentic madras fabric, which was created on traditional hand looms to give the lightweight cloth its charming, slubby appearance. Under its present generation of family leadership, the business has launched its own house-label clothing, which takes madras in new directions with Cuban-style shirts, work jackets and even winter-weight fabric.
“Working on this collection for 3 years, it has been wonderful educating people that “Mad-rus” is actually from “Mah-dras” India,” says Original Madras Trading Company co-founder Prasan Shah. “Stores across North America, Europe, Japan and Korea have been supportive of the handloom line and tradition we are reviving.”
Moreover, it’s not just madras that global consumers are gaining a greater appreciation for. Shah sees that this increased interest is benefiting made-in-India labels generally.
“We believe that Made in India product is starting to be recognized as a high-quality product,” he continues. “From being a source of cheap labor, mass-produced garments, certain Indian brands working with skilled craftsman clusters and intelligent design intervention are today recognized as world-class brands.”
It’s beyond time, but buyers worldwide are waking up to what cloth merchants at almost any time in world history would have told you: India is where it’s at.