100Hands: Making Light Work of Luxury
Using ancient techniques originally reserved for nobility, 100Hands creates shirts with a kind of flair not often seen in shirtmaking today.
While Italy, France and England remain bastions of tailoring and shirtmaking, in recent years other countries have emerged with style, craft and panache. The likes of B&Tailor in Korea or Ciccio in Japan have shown the world their take on traditional tailoring with impressive flair. And let’s be clear – it’s refreshing to have great people of the craft from across the continents showing Europeans how it is done. The result is a virtuous circle of improvement, strive for perfection and proof that artisans around the globe are renewing their interest in quality. One country that is seldom mentioned for high-end menswear is India. Craft has, nonetheless, been how many people have made a living in India since 2000 BC and that heritage is, according to Akshat Jain, co-owner of 100Hands, “what gave us something so valuable to offer”. Thanks to its roots in the embroidery trade, 100Hands employs descendants of the families who hand-embroidered textiles for the Maharajas of India and are therefore well versed in the finest needle-craft techniques from the 17th century – ones they still use today to make each shirt. Beautiful garments take time, patience and skill, and watching the seamstresses at work in their atelier is a constant reminder of this. Akshat is willingly transparent about the shirts being made in India and is incredibly proud of it. The name of the company represents yet more proof of the respect it has for its skilled workers. Rather than naming it after the founders or the family owning it, the name of the company is an homage to the 50 pairs of hands it takes to produce a single handmade shirt. In regards to working conditions, it seems only natural to the owners of 100Hands to give a comfortable environment, with marble floors, air-conditioning and a dust-free climate, in addition to wages far above the average for garment workers. 100Hands remains conscious that to have the best products, it needs to provide workers with the best environment, and the brand goes the extra mile by giving all unused pieces of fabrics to local organisations to create clothes for children.
100Hands initially ventured into shirtmaking with six craftsmen creating exclusively for family and friends, without any commercial intent. However, Akshat’s father was unimpressed with the quality of shirts he would see on the market and became nostalgic for how well they were made in the past. His desire to construct shirts the same way his ancestors did means the company now employs 140 artisans to make a limited number of shirts per day, each taking 35 hours to make. But the number of hours isn’t of particular interest to 100 Hands – it is the “level of precision that defines true quality”, according to Akshat. For instance, the buttonholes are made using an ancient method embroidering on the extreme edge of the cut by placing the buttonhole on a flatbed. The finest needle is used for the procedure to place more than twice the number of stitches than normally included in a traditional handmade buttonhole. That’s 45 minutes for one buttonhole. The company supplies shirts to some of the most prestigious Savile Row houses, Parisian tailors and a few beautiful menswear temples across the world under private label, but is also serious about expanding under its own name, and rightly so. As a client himself, and a friend of The Rake, tailor Lorenzo Cifonelli says he “recognises (in 100Hands) the value of authenticity that we are all defending at Cifonelli” and that he admires “the creativity that exists while also respecting a high quality of craftsmanship”. Akshat also admits that when showing the pattern matching of the 100Hands collection at Japan’s Isetan two years ago, the buyers stood up and started clapping to salute the level of craftsmanship. Indeed, considering the dedication to craft and its role in shaking the stigma attached to India as an unfavourable labour market for garment-making, 100Hands deserves a round of applause.