Some clothes speak. Not like making-a-statement speak, but they speak because they have life. Because it was life that made them, by hand. I’m talking about handlooms. They are ingrained in our vernacular, but tend to be ignored when we make buying choices. Bareek wants to bring them to the forefront again, but through the less common avatar of men’s shirts.
Bareek, a young brand from Delhi, crafts handwoven shirts for men, working with weavers in storied handloom towns like Pochampally and Murshidabad. They are decidedly modern in their aesthetic and stay away from design cues that are overtly, stereotypically Indian-ethnic. I feel this is a great thing and sets them apart.
The ethnic flavour is present, but softly so, coming from the lovely natural traits that handloom fabrics inherently offer. Traditional-meets-modern can be a tired marketing cliché, but not so when done right. Bareek’s shirts are a great embodiment of this and of contemporary Made in India. Along with their relaxed, minimalist vibe, there are two things Bareek does really well. First, their styles are quite refined and second, the shirts are offered at honest price points, without needlessly using the handloom tag to make them inaccessible.
I got two shirts from the brand – one made with hand spun khadi and another with handwoven cotton having ikat tie-and-dye patterns, and put them to test.
Dune Yellow and Blue Stripes
- High count khadi
- Yellow and blue
- Striped pattern
“Lava Kumar” Oxford
Yes, that’s what the shirt is called, in honour of the man who led them to this pattern.
- Handwoven cotton
- Earthy steel blue
- Pochampally ikat pattern
If you see everything on offer on their website, there’s a lot of coherence. This isn’t a something-for-everybody kind of collection. On the flip side, hearteningly, if you like one, chances of you liking most of what they make is quite high.
First impressions about Bareek and their handwoven shirts for men
I first saw Bareek at a multi-brand pop-up shop in Delhi. I had heard about them previously but wanted to check it out in person. They were set up at one end of the space and had most of the collection available. Collectively, I looked at all their shirts and felt their clean designs had something calming and feel-good about them. The natural variations in handloom fabrics, the earthiness of tones and lovely texture seen all around were really pleasing.
It was on getting to the price tag that picking up a shirt felt like a no-brainer. I saw a gorgeous, handwoven ikat shirt for ₹2,290 and couldn’t pass on it. I thought I could happily get a few more because there was little to not like. They are classic designs on handloom fabrics with a modern, minimalist twist.
But why handlooms? What’s the big deal?
We’re quite used to the term ‘handlooms’ and its association with India, though nowadays they aren’t really a prominent part of our everyday lives. Yet still, our country is the biggest source of handwoven fabrics in the world and handlooms are the largest generator of local employment after agriculture. In fact, most of the weavers are women, who support their households through this occupation. Handlooms are a really important part of our culture and heritage, which is why I feel they should get their due. Because it would be quite a pity to see them die out.
Hey, at least Manyavar got #ParamparikVeshbhusha trending again with their questionable marketing. (If you’ve sat through enough pre-movie commercials, you know exactly what I’m talking about)
While there may be good reasons why handlooms are unsuitable or unviable for certain designs and uses, there’s still an unmistakable charm when you look at them. The human element that caused all the weaves and lines to not be perfectly straight and uniform makes them so attractive to me.
Aman Singh, founder of Bareek, agrees: “You need to feel high count handloom fabrics. Words simply can’t describe it. It’s so light that it feels like you’ve got nothing on. That’s what our master crafters are so good at – making fabrics that power looms just couldn’t.”
Living with the Dune Yellow & Blue Stripes shirt (Khadi)
The Dune Stripes is from Bareek’s first collection and is the lightest shirt I’ve ever worn. This feather-weight comes from the hand spun, high count khadi it’s made from – absolutely ideal for a sultry summer day.
To many people, Khadi conjures the image of a coarse, rustic, heavy fabric. If you hold this shirt, you’ll know it couldn’t be further from the truth. Its extreme lightness and softness came as mild disbelief to me too. My wife, who spends her fair share of time with fabrics at her design studio, actually refused to agree the shirt was pure khadi.
Products like these pose a challenge for brands that are online-only. I could attempt to describe it in even greater detail, but it remains one of those things where you’ll feel the weight and fall only when you try it on.
The fit of the shirt, in Bareek’s own words, falls between slim and relaxed. It’s a smart fit, likely to work well on thin and average body types, but less so on heavier frames. The yellow isn’t very bright and is more ochre, so it’s easily paired with chinos or denims. I usually wear it tucked out with navy chinos and tan brogues.
Living with the Lava Kumar Oxford shirt (Ikat on handwoven cotton)
These days there’s no escaping ikat – it’s everywhere. Bags, wallets, folders, men’s clothing, women’s clothing, kid’s clothing, you name it. There has been a bit of an explosion. Especially of the V-pattern variety. And knowing Bareek, that’s one kind of ikat that’ll probably never find its way onto their shirts. They like to take uncommon stylistic approaches, while making sure their stuff looks classic and not overdone.
The Lava Kumar (I’m still not over the amusing name) has irregular, rectangular tie-and-dye patterns. At the ends of the pattern, you can kind of see a fade-away effect, which comes from the way it’s been woven – a nod to its handwoven character and my favourite thing about the shirt.
Close second favourite is the label. It reads “Get out there, Sir, and do something of quality”. I’m still not sure if it’s inspiration or a veiled taunt, but it makes me chuckle when I’m putting it on.
It bears noting that this is my most complimented shirt in recent times. That’s partly because during my consulting days, my shirt choices were – let’s just say – boring! An unimaginative office blue wasn’t really going to get anyone swooning. That notwithstanding, this shirt does catch the eye, but not the wrong kind of attention.
The texture of the fabric, too, gives away its handloom heritage and while this isn’t as soft as the Dune Stripes, I have no complaints about comfort. In fact, I consider the Lava Kumar to be smarter and more versatile than the Dune Stripes. I usually pair it with grey chinos (that play off really well with the ikat) or dark indigo denims.
Founder’s take – Aman Singh, Bareek
Aman Singh is the young man behind Bareek. He’s got a well thought-out vision of what he wants Bareek to be. And the brand hasn’t wavered from it in either of the collections put out so far. Here are some excerpts from a chat we had about their reason to be and why their shirts for men are designed the way they are.
On what shapes their collection
“Bareek was born out of a frustration. I wanted to break the traditional and orthodox way of running a design label. We focus on core styles and don’t function according to seasons. We learn every production cycle and improve our shirts on every run; the tiniest of details that are hardly noticeable. We make sure we have a set of permanents and classics that are always available. We’re doing things differently and we’re proud of our ways.”
“Our design philosophy in the essentials collection is all about simplicity and functionality. There’s a lot of noise and chaos out there these days. People are looking for good quality fits and good quality fabric. That has actually become hard to come across. And we’re here to address the gap. Our patrons respect us for that and keep coming back.”
Pricing and buying
Bareek’s shirts are priced between ₹1,990 – ₹2,290 and can be bought online from their website (click here). That is a Really solid value proposition.
They have some designs on a clearance sale as well. The Dune Stripes, in fact, can be picked up for just ₹1,395 (at the time of writing).
I have come to respect Bareek for keeping pricing real. While it may be said that the ₹2000 price range for shirts isn’t inexpensive, per se, you ought to compare what a mass market brand gets you for the same amount and how you get a far more unique, superior and thoughtfully handcrafted product from an Indian indie brand like Bareek.
If earthy and relaxed floats your boat, Bareek’s proposition is hard to beat. There’s an honesty about the brand and the product they make. Sure, you may not be able to wear their shirts in a corporate office environment as they veer on the casual, but they’re still very smart and versatile; good for almost any occasion that isn’t formal.
I like that they aren’t trying to be too ethnic, luxurious or champions of sustainability – they just want to give you a really good shirt with character that gets the details right. Subtle, but with its own distinct identity.
Who’s it for: Anyone looking for smart, earthy shirts with modern inspiration
Talking point: Here, try feeling this khadi for a moment (while you watch pupils dilate)
Best thing about it: The price, considering what you’re getting
Winning combination: Handloom + Refined, minimalist design + Honest pricing
One thing I’d change: Medium sizes in many shirt designs being out of stock (But understandable, given the nature of handloom and small-batch operations)
Are Bareek’s shirts something you’d be interested in adding to your wardrobe? Let us know in the comments below. And if you found this story interesting or useful, please spread the indie brand goodness by sharing it!