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Made in India: 100Hands

Luxury shirtmakers, 100Hands, battle the myths most typical to craft a shirt less ordinary

Words by Will Halbert

You know, it’s downright character-building to step out of your comfort zone every once in a while. That’s especially true in the realm of menswear, where well-intentioned buzzwords like ‘heritage’ and ‘provenance’ keep us firmly in one place for entirely too long. That place is invariably rife with snobbery and gatekeeping, too. The kind of snobbery that turns its smug little nose up at anything that wasn’t hand-crafted by the same, tenth-generation artisan in the hallowed ateliers of, say, Savile Row, Northamptonshire, or Okayama.

Don’t get me wrong; pride in any craft is a beautiful thing. It should be celebrated. Just not when it descends into a saccharine, reductive, and (let’s face it) pretty racist pantomime of just-like-momma-used-to-make marketing make-believe.  

But I won’t labour the point. I don’t have to. I have Akshat Jain, co-founder of luxury shirtmakers, 100Hands, to do that for me. Made in India, Akshat’s shirts are a fitting (and fitted) testament to the scope and breadth of the world that awaits once you step out of that pesky comfort zone. Take it away, Akshat.

First off, what’s the driving philosophy behind 100Hands?
The key driver of 100Hands was to bring craftsmanship back to the core of the product. Over the years, everything became a by-product of cost-versus-margin and this led to a continuous decline in quality. We want to revive the craft and gradually educate the customers about its beauty. People are surprised when they become aware of what goes into a shirt from 100Hands when compared to a mass-produced shirt. At the same time, the whole concept is sustainable by producing only what is needed, so there is zero wastage.  

I imagine this comes up a lot, but where does the name come from?
In 2014, we started drafting a process to make the best handmade shirt in the world. We estimated it would take approximately 50 people to complete all hand-sewn operations for a shirt. So, we coined the name “100Hands”. Today, there are more than 200 people involved, but the process followed from the very start is the same. 

100Hands is known for working alongside Indian artisans in an ethical, sustainable way. Can you tell us a little about your factory and the artisans that work within?
The factory is in the northern part of India and it is a fully air-conditioned factory, also to maintain a dust-free environment. There are so many manual steps in our shirt-making that our artisans are actually the biggest assets in the company. We pay everyone a proper salary with a 25% pension, in comparison to the piece-rate payment used throughout most of the industry. This allows us to focus on quality rather than quantity. Aside from that, we’re audited yearly by an international company to ensure that not only wages but every aspect of safety and lifestyle are provided to our artisans.  

India has a rich history of fabric and embroidery mastery. How does 100Hands celebrate that heritage? How are you ensuring its survival?
The embroidery heritage of India forms the foundation of our work. We are lucky to have access to several tailors who had the skills passed on to them from the generations before them. They are our teachers today, and every person joining the company goes through six months of training, irrespective of the experience they came in with. Sometimes, it’s necessary to ‘unlearn’ certain methods in the interest of crafting a shirt the 100Hands way. 

Do you think the menswear industry – and indeed the wider fashion industry – places too much emphasis on provenance? Do you think we’re missing out by only looking at the usual suspects for our shirting and suiting?
I think clothing has always been connected to its origin. For example, the best silk and cotton fabrics, from over 3000 years ago originated from China and India. For the last 200 years, Italy and the UK have made great fabrics, so the focus of the industry has largely been on them. Naturally, companies with great marketing teams can effectively use concepts like origin and provenance to bolster their own standing in the industry. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. The only problem is that taking such an approach usually leads to generalised statements about production in other countries. With globalisation in full swing and people traveling around the world, these perceptions are, thankfully, changing very quickly. There are amazing garments to be found outside of the usual suspects. 

Has 100Hands ever fallen victim to any of the usual made-in-India bias?
It’s part of our daily life! We are headquartered in Amsterdam, so for the first two years, we weren’t too vocal about our roots of production. However, we’re proud of our atelier so we decided to be fully transparent about our production origins. Once we opened up and showed people what we were about, we noticed an immediate spike in sales all over the world. The customers and the stores loved the authenticity and quality of our shirts. Our provenance became one of our biggest strengths as it surprised the whole luxury menswear industry that an Indian production house (although the brand was established in Amsterdam) crafted the finest shirts in the world.  

Let’s address another misconception. People tend to believe that the more handwork the better, but both are important elements in the shirt-making process, are they not? Can you tell us a little about 100Hands’ balance between handwork and machine work?
Both are important. A lot of handwork is a question of experience value. It’s a flourish above all else. In fact, most of the visible handwork is not strictly necessary for the construction of the shirt, while much of the behind-the-scenes handwork – like cutting and pasting – is absolutely vital. Again, a lot of it comes down to marketing.  

We don’t think in terms of how many steps are done by hand; we think in terms of the number of hours worked on that shirt. Which, if you’re curious, is around 34 hours for a Gold Line shirt. Gold Line shirts are largely done by hand. But of course, a lot of enforcements are given by machine in a very fine manner. The main goal is to achieve the highest possible precision – whether it’s done by hand or by machine.  A simple example would be our button holes. They’re embroidered on a frame, which takes about 40 minutes. The industry standard for a handmade buttonhole is around 5 minutes. As they say: it’s all in the detail.

And finally, what’s next for 100Hands?
We are a young company but we’ve got high hopes. We want to share our story, our craftsmanship, and our commitment to such intricate processes with more and more customers. It might sound a little lofty, but we want to become the highest possible benchmark in quality shirt making.