Timeless Fashion and Unique Fabrics from Whakato

Explore the charming world of sustainable fashion by local Etsy seller Whakato.

In our Featured Shop series, we shine a light on a standout shop from Etsy's talented seller community, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at their process and story.

Sustainable and stylish—your hunt for versatile pieces inspired by nature will end with the breezy collection from Whakato. Based in Dharmshala, India, the shop is managed by the designer duo, Mahima and Himanshi. They bring forth generational wisdom that they've gathered, an environment-first philosophy, unique fabrics, and distinctive drapes to give you timeless clothing you will love more with each passing day. Buy Fun Coffee Mugs

It is not an unknown fact that the fashion industry takes a toll on the environment. But sometimes, the most complex problems need simple yet innovative solutions. Whakato's sustainable practices follow a cyclical approach where every thread, every fibre, and every button are accounted for. They use buttons crafted from the shells of coconuts, packaging made from waste, and tattered denim, and work keenly to ensure that every step of the journey is as thoughtful and sustainable as possible. And the star of the shop? Lotus stem fabric, which is a great alternative that can offer you comfort like no other. Learn more about their inspirational journey, in their own words, and let us know which item from their shop you are crushing on in the comment section below.

Explore the Whakato collection

Read on to discover how Whakato is bypassing plastic zippers to create their Hakama pants.

How did you get started with your craft?

After multiple college projects, one job, and zero satisfaction with the fashion industry, we knew it was time for some experimentation. We'd seen so much secrecy in the industry, we wanted to dip both our feet into as much information as possible. With that thought, we knew we needed to see the trials and tribulations of running an honest and transparent brand firsthand. We took a break from our jobs to rework our portfolios and apply for new jobs. While doing that in a small cafe, Mahima asked me, "Is this how our lives are going to be? Applying for and quitting jobs?" We stayed quiet after that all day. And in that silence, we both knew the answer was a 'no'. Whakato came into the picture very soon after that. We weren't sure about a lot of things but one thing we knew for sure was that we had to experiment with an alternative, something new. With new fibres, the problem isn’t about the science behind them, but convincing people that there’s a healthy demand for alternatives—and making sure there are zero compromises in performance.

SHOP: Colour block Abaya, Rs. 23,040

When did Etsy enter the picture for you?

We've worked with designers who have been associated with Etsy before opening our store, Whakato. We sold multiple pieces, talked to numerous customers, and uploaded many listings long before even thinking about opening our brand. Etsy has been familiar and comfortable for a very long time. Once our collection was ready, it just felt natural for us to present it on Etsy.

Tell us about your workspace, and what tools do you use?

Whakato’s workspace changes like the days of the week. The days we work with waste have us somewhere between ‘shambles' and ‘catastrophe’. Design and research days are as clean as fresh air. But mostly, our workspace is our happy place, with lots of morning light. It’s where we can be ourselves and be surrounded by the things we love. It's a repository for every doodle, every design, every test fit, and every waste fabric scrap we've ever had. There are some unsaid rules for keeping our weaving workshop, pattern-making room, and sewing area clean at all times. Our physical tools involve sketching stationery, pattern-making tools, stitching tools, a tufting machine and frame, and display and organisation tools.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Luckily, we're all morning people, so we're all at the studio early. To-do lists are made and partially followed. Mahima and I quickly go through emails, and then we're with our pattern master and tailor. This is where we go through designs, decisions, and disagreements. The rest of the day is fluid—a mix of travel, follow-ups, client meetings, research, and buyer background checks. We make sure we end the day with some physical activity (sport, exercise, or dance) to keep our minds fresh for the next day.

SHOP: Lotus silk kaftan, Rs. 21,841

Your shop’s aesthetic leans towards minimalism and sustainability. Did it take you a while to develop your style, or have you always gravitated toward this particular look?

I'll talk about sustainability first. We are taking baby steps towards shifting from anything that strains the planet in the name of fashion to promoting harmless, compostable, and sustainable fabrics for clothes (and nature). For us, timeless is anything with a strong appeal of its own, a strong voice that breaks through the years or even centuries. And our shop’s aesthetic comes from this ideology.

From inception, we only design clothes that will safely biodegrade or that can be recycled at the end of their lives. In terms of design, we aim at building people's attachment to their garments. Clothes that you're attached to tend to stay in use longer. None of our designs are trend-oriented. They are timeless. With a small collection, we look at enduring a garment as it is annexed to a person’s wardrobe and relentlessly tested against social constructs, representation, and time. We see the enduring garment that is loved as a piece and is evolving with and on the person who loves it.

You are two partners managing the shop, tell us about your individual roles. How do you learn from each other to deliver your creative products?

We are two partners managing everything actually, so most of our tasks overlap. Individually, Mahima looks at operations, and I deal with communications. We've been friends for 10 years now. And I think learning from each other constantly is what glues us together, creatively and otherwise. My decision-making is emotion-based, and Mahima relies on logic. The common bridge we build together is how we move forward.

Tell us about your team and how the team effort contributes to the creative process?

You cannot have real environmental or ethical sustainability without transparency. Our team includes our weaver, pattern master, tailor, suppliers, and both of us. Most brands have a very close working relationship with their layer 1 teams (cut, make, trim part of what we do—the “made in”). However, the layer 2 team members (the makers of our fabrics) are often hidden under the blankets of agents and wholesalers. And getting through them is not an easy step. This means that learning more about the people and procedures involved in creating the fabrics we value so highly in our design process necessitates a little more digging and constant follow-up. For us, it's probably the most difficult part of the design development process, but it's also the most rewarding when we get it right. We believe in explaining clearly what, how, and why we do things to everyone involved in the process—our values, and our expectations to share those values with them. When our weaver knows about it, he personally makes sure there are no chemicals involved in the post-weaving fabric wash.

Can you walk me through the process of how you go from an idea to a finished product? Do you start with sketches? Do you start hands-on with the materials? And how do you give the finishing touches to your clothes?

As a designer, I previously thought design ideas should be primarily influenced by visual cues in order to be legitimate. It was drummed in during design school, but I’ve recently let go of the idea as it never felt right when I tried to force it. I can accept that it’s not laziness, it’s just my way. And I’m glad I can finally articulate it. Our muse is mostly nature and the way it works. In terms of work, sometimes it takes the shape of a garment, sometimes it's a system for circularity that fires up hope, and sometimes it's a cleanse to make way for something better.

What’s your favourite kind of item to make?

Every piece that includes pockets!

Which one of your designs has a special personal meaning for you?

Since the beginning, we've made difficult but unapologetic design sacrifices to be true to our values. One of them was a pair of pants. We couldn’t put in plastic zippers and needed more support at the waistband. An all buttoned crotch looked weirdly uncomfortable. We haven't been able to find a zipper that can easily be removed for recycling. That means, for the time being, we don't use zippers in any of our designs!

SHOP: Hakama pants, Rs. 25,609

Hakama pants are our answer to this design challenge. Inspired by traditional Japanese clothing, the crowd-favourite hakama pants complement all shapes and sizes. Button it up according to your size, pleat it up, and tie it at your waist. It was that simple. Made from 100% lotus stem fibre and naturally dyed, it makes both a statement and staple. The pockets on these are almost as deep as our love for them.

What’s the most popular item in your shop, and how did that design come into being?

That would be our lotus fibre scarf and Victorian shirt. Scarf, we knew, was important since it's a new fabric that we're working with, and people usually have concerns while investing in a new fabric. A lot of our customers first buy scarves, and after they have a tactile experience with the fabric, they go for clothing.

Our Victorian shirt is an elegant everyday option. This lightweight shirt is made with lotus stem fabric. It has a relaxed look, fuller sleeves, and an easy collar for versatility and elegant style. In design terms, we love clean shapes, thoughtful minimalism, and timeless design functionality, so you'll find pieces in our range that are wearable for a long time and can be effortlessly styled with other Whakato goods. Customer input is a part of the development process, which makes our finished pieces more relevant to our customers needs—it’s customer-centric design.

SHOP: Victorian shirt, Rs. 14,555, Lotus fibre scarf, Rs. 8,990

Tell us about encouraging customer feedback that motivated you to keep on creating good products?

Joseph said something to the effect of, “Such wonderful shirts! I decided to order them on a whim as I was going on vacation to a very humid area shortly, and when I wore these shirts, I could actually feel the wind blowing through them and they never felt clingy or stifling. I definitely plan on ordering more in the future! And the quality of the work is impeccable!” This was our first sale and feedback. It was such an emotional moment for us. Getting acknowledgement and appreciation from a completely different part of the globe for something made with so much care and love in a small village in the Himalayan foothills. Someone trusting your process and appreciating it makes you want to do everything in your capacity to keep going and take a step further to become even better at the same time.

SHOP: Sleeveless shirt, Rs. 8,993

You use recycled and sustainable materials in your designs. How did that come to be a priority for you? Were you concerned about it since the conception of the shop?

A big YES! Circular design is a method of design that from inception to death, phases out harmful materials and all wastage in a continuing cycle. We are on a mission to change how people make things.We will not create any product that doesn't have a clear birth, life, and afterlife trajectory. Each item we produce must first have a life cycle assessment to determine its overall impact, and every Whakato piece must be able to be recycled or composted safely back into the earth. Plus, we don't just source good quality fabrics for our clothing, we look at other details as well. Even seemingly invisible components like buttons, labels, threads, interlining, and dyes must meet our circular lifecycle criteria.

At Whakato, we believe that unless something is designed for actual circularity, it cannot be sustainable. Circularity is so much more than one lifecycle for a garment, and it's so much more than recycling. Our purpose is to act as custodians rather than business people, and provide simple solutions for our fellow citizens.

Lotus silk is such a unique fabric. Tell us about the process of making it, and how did you decide on it?

Fibres from lotus stems can be used to produce a fabric that has the flawless virtues of silk and linen. Grown in the wetlands of Myanmar and Cambodia, one of the eco-friendly elements is that it is extracted and spun manually. It is mesmerising to watch the whole process. Women in Myanmar gather the stems in the mornings of harvest and a long process follows to extract fibres from from within 24-48 hours of harvest because otherwise the stems lose out on their natural moisture and start to break. And we thought our job was tough. With that thought, we take these fibres from Myanmar to Himachal Pradesh, India, to experiment with yarn twists, handloom weaves, vegetable dyes, natural trims, and our love for the craft.

Your clothes also have distinctive cuts and drapes; how did you develop that unique design?

When we first started Whakato, we wanted to create a label that provided simple solutions to complex problems. The more we learned about what real environmental sustainability meant for fashion businesses, the more we realised we didn't know. Over time, we came to understand that it would not be enough to use organic cotton in a t-shirt if that t-shirt was dyed with high-impact chemicals, sewn together with polyester thread, and finished with nylon labels and conventional cotton trims. Something needs to be done about certain individual inputs like fabric being more environmentally friendly than the conventional approach. Even then, the question remains: at the end of the garment’s life, it goes to a landfill anyway—so is our job done?

To take the challenge head-on, we developed life cycle assessments for our garments and their components before they were even created to ensure that the overall environmental and social impact was better than the conventional alternative. Biodegradability or pure material streams for easier recycling are a must at Whakato. The life cycle assessment takes into consideration many factors like regenerative fibres, chemical usage, carbon emissions, water usage, and human impact. The process consists of not only design inception but also mindful usage and careful discard. And from time to time, we have to make compromises to keep the philosophy alive.

What are your go-to sources of inspiration (in your work or your life in general)? Any particular blogs, magazines, books, or any amazing Instagram feed?

From the Instagram of Agus Panzoni to the ‘Articles of Interest’ podcast, we find inspiration absolutely everywhere. We read global reports, books, and articles that touch upon sustainable fashion and the advancements in it.

Do you ever get creatively stuck, and how do you deal with a creative block?

An overwhelming feeling of being stuck in the creative process without the ability to move forward and make anything new can affect the best of us. Sometimes, we find ourselves staring at the computer screen or a blank page, struggling to take the next step. While overcoming a creative rut is usually a different process for every individual,we like to temporarily put the work away and try to find a sense of play. We immerse ourselves in a new environment and refresh our spirits with nature walks and playing with our puppies.

SHOP: Lotus silk saree, Rs. 19,100

What’s next on the horizon for your shop? Are any big plans or new developments coming up for 2023? Yes! We're launching some new (and old) fabrics that are well backed by research—new surfaces, designs, and our very own ideologies.

Visit link - https://www.etsy.com/shop/HomeBrandStudio