Whakatō is an ethical-focused fashion startup founded by two women who saw an opportunity to introduce ethical values in fashion and textile.
Women entering the business world in India is nothing new. From the neighborhood aunty who runs a beauty parlor to a teacher who conducts a tutoring center from home — we’ve all seen women running businesses. However, for years, women had to settle for these small, informal, work-from-home businesses.
Today, a steadily growing tribe of women entrepreneurs has been marking its identity in India across several domains and industries. From conventional woman-friendly enterprises to new-age startups, women have started taking initiatives in every field.
What is Whakatō?
Whakatō is a startup that we came across recently. Led by Himanshi and Mahima, Whakatō is an ethical, environmental, and experimental enterprise that has chosen fashion to transform the anthropocentric business model into an eco-centric one. Currently, Whakatō is working on extracting fibers from the Lotus Stem and making clothes out of it. We interviewed the two women founders to know more about their work and their life.
Early Days of Whakatō
I’m Himanshi Sahni. After getting into a law college, I immediately told my family that I wanted to study design and not law. I think that decision has shaped me into the person I am today.
Mahima, on the other hand, grew up in a small town called Haldwani in India. She graduated in fashion design. After finishing college, she moved to the city to work and build a career. After gaining some experience, she moved back to Kangra to build the brand that is a work in progress today.
“Our journey of building this startup started in 2019. We had gone on a trip after quitting our jobs together. I guess that trip to the mountains never ended and that loop of working and looking for a new job haunted both of us. We wanted to do something of our own but we also wanted to create what was not available in the market- transparency. It was an experiment for us too. To see if building an ethical collection is possible. We both were working for the same fashion enterprise. Mahima then realized it was a loop.”
Finding Whakatō and Ethical Fashion
Working closely with brands gave Mahima insights into the fashion market, its loopholes, and its lies. Marketing is obviously the icing on top of these lies. After leaving, we asked ourselves what’s next? Every time we would apply for a job or get to know a new brand, we discovered another loop. We were looking for alternatives either for education or for jobs. We came across Whakato to build a brand where we can be transparent and vocal about the real problems. Now, we are figuring out solutions to different problems. For example, how can we stick to our ethics and values and still deliver successfully our products to every part of the world? It is not an easy journey but we are not in any hurry nor do we want to rush it.
Ethical Fashion Products of Whakatō
After all the research and the moral dilemmas, we finally understood our real calling. So, we began working as a small entity with alternative plant textiles. Our first fiber was extracted from the Lotus Stem. We’ve since made a capsule collection out of it with comfortable silhouettes and lots of pockets. Our collection is also completely biodegradable.
The buttons were made from coconut shells and the stitching thread from organic cotton, ..etc. A lot of sustainable brands use something called “fusing” in their clothes that sticks to the fabric to make it sturdy and speeds up the stitching process (making the fabric non-decomposable). But it’s not really visible, hence the greenwashing.
We’ve stayed away from things like that to be true to our ethics. This makes the process slower but it’s our way to test the hypothesis of the possibility of building an ethical brand.
Let Us Lotus for Ethical Fashion
“Let us Lotus” is made purely from fibers extracted from the stems of lotus. The woven fabric looks like linen and feels like a pashmina. Lotus fibers have an age-old tradition of making robes for Buddhist monks of the highest ranks. Today, the seasonal limitations to extracting the fiber and negligible use of water in the process make it a rare and luxurious fabric in the market.
Lotus, unlike cotton, doesn’t require many resources. Every thread, every fiber, and every button is accounted for because we have nothing to hide. We have a TMI page on our website to give our customers all the answers they need before purchasing from us.
Our buttons are crafted from the shells of coconut, the packaging made from waste and tattered pieces of denim, and the stitching thread from recycled cotton yarn.
Current Challenges at Whakatō
We have a niche market, as our product range is high-end. We are self-funding the brand for now and definitely looking for funding or investors who would like to explore the path with us. Honestly, we’re both designers. We naturally know how to create. How to sell is one skill that we’ve acquired with time. What’s next is studying and making projections, and getting the necessary funding for our idea.
Though our challenges are never-ending. We go through numerous wrong weaving experiments on a daily basis and the pressure to keep doing small jobs and freelance gigs to fund our business don’t allow us to find the right stitching team within our budget. We also have to manage operations, design, marketing, logistics, growth, finance, sourcing, sales, …and a lot more. In reality, we do everything to sustain our brand. We’re both working other jobs to be able to fund our startup and we’re also looking for some guidance to get the required funding. Please contact us if you can help.
We feel very proud to be working for something so honest no matter what people might say. Negative opinions might scare us sometimes but we also get positive opinions from friends who remind us that if it was supposed to be all easy breezy, many would have done it. Mahima often says that opinions are everywhere, some are positive, some are negative and we have to learn how to be selective in letting them affect us.
In the end, we both want to tell you that wherever you go, go with all your heart. Don’t be scared of trying new things. As Seth Godin says, “If it scares you, it might be a good thing to try.” If the market is not showing you sustainable options, take risks to find them yourself which may require creating them from scratch.
Authored by Aashna Chawla
Edited by Yara Fakhoury