Combining femininity and strength with dreamy sheer silk and fine tailoring to create the ideal collection? Ni.nêh is hitting the right tone with their first collection!
Ni.nêh is a new sustainable brand, new to the market and new to the fashion scene, but the designer behind the brand is not! Karenine started in fashion 15 years ago designing for denim and in fast fashion. During her years working in NYC and LA, Karenine traveled to factories in China and India and was shocked to see the conditions that factory workers worked and lived in. As she continued her career she became more disheartened by the demand in fashion, it is always quantity over quality. Feeling burnt out, Karenine had the opportunity to travel to India for work and discovered some family-run factories specializing in artisan silks and leathers. Seeing the people behind these fabrics have inspired her to start her own line, Ni.nêh.
Ni.nêh is a celebration of the amazing artisans that produce the collection in India. The collection is made with sustainable high-end fabrics like non-violent silk and chromium-free leathers. The collection walks the thin line between femininity and strength, flowy, loose silk tops paired with leather, dresses in bold colors and geometric tailoring. Designs that flatter the female form and still give you the courage to walk into that boardroom.
I recently had the chance to catch up with Karenine over a coffee and heard her story first hand. From her own words, I would love to share how Ni.nêh started and learn more about the families in India making her beautiful clothes!
What was the push for you to start your own brand?
I was feeling disgust and guilt while working the fast fashion industry for so many years. The lack of transparency, waste, always chasing after trends that would die after one season and having to adapt to an unrealistic calendar. But I still had the urge to design beautiful clothes for women like myself, that want to feel empowered and ready to take on the world.
How did you find these artisans in India?
I have been to India before working for other fashion companies, I fell in love with the country and the people right away. But I did not find the artisans and small family owned factories I am working with now until my first trip there for Ni.nêh last year. I first went to an agent in India, like most brands do when they are working with factories overseas. I told them my whole story and how important it was to work with factories that are completely transparent as to how they treat their workers and what standards do they have so I could make sure they are paid fairly and work under safe conditions. I spent almost 2 weeks of my trip feeling completely hopeless, spending 6-8 hours in a car everyday, visiting one factory after another and learning a lot of what NOT to do. Then one day I finally visited my first factory in the area of Gurugram, near New Delhi. A beautiful and sweet woman received me in what looked like her house. The place was pristinely clean, open and full of light. All her development and production was made there and every worker looked like it was part of a big family. Plus she makes and also designs some beautiful luxury pieces for the local market. She showed me everything and told me how important it is to keep her operation small so she can focus on quality not quantity. The next day, I visited another small family operation that makes leather accessories and garments. I loved that they were focused on chromium-free leather and use sustainable dyes because they know how harmful they are for their workers' health.
I sat with their factory managers, pattern makers, embroidery masters and sewers and designed a full collection in a matter of days. I visited a block print community in the village of Bagru and had one of the best experiences of my life learning how to block print with their local artisans. I came back to NY feeling complete.
Can you go over each producer and how they are sustainable?
Sure, I work with a small family operation that works only with 100% silks, another that focuses on chromium-free leather. I have been inside their operations and I work directly with their artisans.
Another producer which I am very passionate about is Saheli Women, a non-profit manufacturer that trains disadvantaged women to become artisans and to be self-sufficient. Their parent organization IPHD runs a women’s health clinic and a school for their workers' children.
What inspired you for your debut collection?
I am always inspired by vintage pieces but I like to add a modern and sleeker twist to them. I love the combination of fluid and structured pieces and I am also attracted to anything handmade. That is why I chose to work with Indian artisans; their craftsmanship is still so important to their culture and they can do it with their eyes closed
You have started a crowdfunding campaign on IfundWomen, what are you planning on doing with the funds raised?
A crowdfunding campaign is the first step to give your product some traction and get more attention when you are new. Let people you already know see that you are serious about your business. Unless you have a lot of money laying around or you are a trust fund baby, most brands will not survive financially. No matter how talented you are. I need the funds from this campaign to help me pay for my production, develop my next season and travel to India to keep documenting the work of all the artisans making my clothes. Ifundwomen is also a platform that empowers women entrepreneurs and they coach you along the to have a successful campaign.