At the start of 2020 the world saw an unparalleled pandemic with COVID-19 which shutdown the infrastructure and economy of the entire globe. This pandemic changed the trajectory of many people’s lives and careers. Although this caused lots of tragedy around the world, the time of quarantine allowed to people to reevaluate their lives and passions.
This was the case for Karthik Kumra, the founder of upcoming luxury brand Karu Research. The pandemic allowed Karthik to pursue his dream of creating a clothing line, which served to provide high quality garments crafted by Indian artisans. Even though Karu is a very young brand, it has an extremely promising future and potential to carve out its own niche in the fashion industry. As a supporter and buyer of the brand since its inception, I will try to give an accurate representation of the brand and its young history.
The Birth of Karu Research
Karthik Kumra, a twenty-two year old Punjabi-Indian, is the founder and creative head of Karu Research. Before giving his full attention to the brand, Karthik was an undergraduate student at the University of Pennsylvania studying economics. He was planning on pursuing that career path until the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
With the pandemic, all of the university’s classes were transitioned online and students were sent back home. So, Karthik moved back to his family in India. His original plan was to stay the course and take part in an online summer internship with a financial firm. But the totality of the pandemic allowed Karthik to re-evaluate his passions and where he wanted to spend his time.
He realized that he had a growing passion for fashion, as well as ideas of his own for a clothing brand. Karthik also had some experience in the fashion space as a high-end clothing reseller. This gave him a lot of hands-on experience with quality garments and the details that come along with it.
As a reseller, Karthik also spent lots of time browsing through fashion boutiques and high-end retailers. This allowed him to think more critically about the fashion industry and how he could develop his own niche in the field. After spending time reselling countless designer brands, Karthik soon came to realize that the high-end fashion industry suffered from a lack of representation and diversity from minorities, as well as the lack of narrative-focused garments. All of the garments he had resold seemed to be made to tailor to a certain style, but never had their own story in terms of their production process or history of the clothing silhouette.
This epiphany led to the birth of Karu Research. The name Karu itself, is the Sanskrit translation of the word, artisan. Sanskrit holds lots of significance as it is the second oldest language in the world and is also the language used in all Indian religious texts. Karthik wanted to make a brand representing Indian textiles and artisans, which features representation of a minority culture as well as being a garment with a story since the process of creating these textiles is rooted in ancient Indian history and family dynasty. Karthik wants Karu Research to be an Indian luxury brand that references India’s cultural heritage as a whole.
Starting a clothing brand at a height of a global pandemic is an extremely difficult task. Although Karthik could not begin the physical process of creating the clothes, he spent time curating the brand identity and what he wanted the brand’s mission and ethos to be.
Once the stay-at-home order ended, Karu Research began the process of creating the clothing garments. Karthik began traveling around India beginning to create his supply chain and production process for the garments. First, he travelled to different artisanal areas in India to understand the process of clothing craftsmanship, as well as the value these craftsman’s place on their work.
Karthik began taking trips to areas in India such as Jaipur, Andhra Pradesh, etc. to start meeting with Indian artisans and craftsmen in order to build rapport and to begin his clothing supply chain. Building these important connections was a very important process for the inception of the brand, since these artisans are families and dynasties which have been in the business for hundreds of years.
Producing the Clothes
After building great connections, Karthik began working hands-on with the artisans in order to conceptualize and create Karu clothing garments. Karthik wanted these clothes to be authentically Indian, so he wanted to start by using Kantha quilts. Kantha quilts are uniquely designed and vibrantly colored quilts that are a specialty of India. Although these Kantha quilts are a major part of Indian heritage, the quality of these quilts greatly declined over the years due to a lack of demand. So, Karthik began to focus on vintage Kantha quilts that had a high level of precision with the craftsmanship.
With a connection for high-quality, vintage Kantha quilts, Karthik began contacting other artisans to piece together the clothing garments. These artisans worked with handloom fabrics like Kantha quilts and block printing skills in order to create unique pieces. The entire process of clothing production is done locally in India, as it is a major mission for the brand as a whole.
All of the clothing materials are sourced from local Indian artisans. The only thing that is imported are the zippers which come from Riri zippers. This also does lead to some difficulties for obtaining other materials. Karu wanted to create clothing with French Terry cloth for example, but that is not available or common in India. So, by working with a friend in the manufacturing business, Karthik and Karu Research created their custom French Terry cloth themselves. Karu vows not to import any fabric since the ethos of the brand is it’s Indian heritage. Karu Research is willing to take some financial hits to stay authentic and true to their brand.
By locally sourcing clothes and having a handmade approach to production, each piece of clothing has a one-of-one appeal to them, which each piece having its own unique stitching and personal feel. Each garment that is sold only has 20-40 units made, so the clothing itself is very exclusive and unique. Karthik himself works with the tailor to ensure that he is hands-on with the production process as a whole. With such a high level of attention to detail and commitment to the quality and handmade process of creating the garments, Karu Research creates a brand ethos that is brand new and very hard to replicate.
Sustainability of the Company
Alongside being a unique, high-quality brand, Karu Research is also is a very sustainable clothing brand in terms of people, planet and profits. Although sustainability isn’t the main message or ethos of the brand, Karthik believes it is the byproduct of having such a tight-knit supply chain and emphasis on craftsmanship.
No electricity is used for the production of the clothing for most collections, since all of the woven fabrics are also created on handloom and designs were printed on using an Ajrakh printer, which is a technique that uses carved wooden blocks to create certain designs. All Karu Research fabrics and prints are created by hand and dyed with natural pigments since it is an Indian tradition that is centuries old but also very environmentally friendly.
Karthik is weary of the usual greenwashing that comes with portraying your brand as sustainable, so he just puts his full focus on the clothing. With such an emphasis of craftsmanship, artisanship, and quality, being sustainable is very easy.
Karu research also has low levels of production due to the emphasis on handmade, high quality garments, so waste and environmental impact is greatly minimized. Karu Research also pays its workers good wages and breathes some growth into an Indian textile economy that is in great decline. Karu Research is also planning on giving full cost breakdowns for each of their clothing collections.
Growth of Karu Research
Karu Research is a relatively young brand as it started post pandemic. However, the brand is growing very quickly and has great potential to become a big name in the fashion luxury space. Karu has done a great job utilizing social media like Instagram to promote the brand and to create a dedicated following. Since the brand is so young currently, you can get directly in contact with Karthik which gives the brand a personal feel that the big names cannot recreate. Instagram has greatly helped Karu Research grow as well as fashion podcasts and blogs. The famous fashion podcast, Throwing Fits, cosigned Karu Research which led to a huge increase in interest of the brand. This endorsement led Karu Research to be discovered by very famous celebrities and influencers. For example, celebrities like Kendrick Lamar, Charlie Puth, Amine, and Joe Jonas have posted themselves wearing Karu Research garments. This was not done through a paid endorsement or sponsorship, but rather a genuine interest and love for the brand. By getting the genuine cosign from famous celebrities and influencers, the Karu Research brand reaches a wider audience and gains fans from market segments they would not have before.
The current, underground feel of the brand will also contribute to the future success of the brand. Everyone wants to be apart of something before it becomes mainstream and Karu Research may be the next popular brand. The brand is slowly gaining steam, gaining supporters every single day. Karu Research has also found its way to retailers like Mr. Porter and Ssense, but in very limited quantity.
Lastly, the niche Karu Research sits in will lead the brand to greater success. Rather than recreating an already established fashion style or aesthetic, Karu is a breath of fresh air in the luxury fashion industry. Indian clothing and heritage has never been at the forefront of fashion, so Karu has the opportunity to be a pioneer in this space. The clothing garments of Karu infuse Indian heritage and color palettes with timeless silhouettes of high fashion. This fusion has already appealed to all different types of fashion fans. The quality and craftsmanship of Karu Research is also excellent enough to compete with haute couture and established luxury brands.
All in all, Karu Research is a very unique clothing brand in terms of its garment style, production process and sustainability efforts. As it is such a young brand, Karu Research has very high potential to grow bigger than it already has. With business-savvy Karthik Kumra at the helm of the brand who has a passion for Indian textiles and luxury fashion, the potential influence of the brand is in extremely good hands.