Kardo is a menswear brand from New Delhi, with primary focus on handwoven shirts (i.e. made with handloom fabrics). It may be a brand you haven’t heard of, but their idea of distinctive, casual shirts is executed with a real fine balance between classic and hip. The same balance that goes terribly wrong for too many brands in their laboured quest for quirk.
Kardo’s shirts are thoughtfully designed with lots of little details, mostly using handlooms and naturally dyed fabrics. Without a doubt, they are among the most interesting designers I’ve come across in the Indian men’s shirt space, with a very relaxed vibe about them. And yet, they are far better known overseas than in India. So I got some shirts from this under-the-radar, indie brand to understand what they’re all about. As a side note, Kardo is the reason I’m wearing a short sleeves shirt for the first time in my adult life.
In a nutshell
With every Kardo shirt, you get a unique blend of texture, detail and well-measured quirk. Well-measured quirk is a term I love using because it’s a good way of saying there’s something unique going on without it coming off as the creator trying too hard. And Kardo’s shirts feel organically cool.
The brand falls into an interesting niche. They are quite fashion-forward in their design language, but slow in approach, with deep respect for Indian handlooms and traditional dyeing and weaving techniques, like ikat and shibori. Their firmly modern designs are brought to life by artisans, whose names are mentioned on the tag stitched to each shirt. Cutting and finishing is done by hand, and the shirt is sewn start to finish by a single tailor. Because of the kind of fabrics and colours Kardo use, most of their shirts have a retro feel to them, which I love.
With average pricing of about ₹6,000 for a shirt, it could be a point of contention in a price-sensitive market. But as the sustainable fashion revolution has made us realise – you get what you pay for. In Kardo’s case, you pay for thoughtful design, better fabric, a more human production process and fair wages to people who made your clothes.
Kardo shirts: Should you? Shouldn’t you?
- Very distinctive designs with an obvious, but not overdone, exclusivity about them
- Designer shirt vibe, because of the careful attention paid to all elements
- Fabrics used are high quality and very ‘real’ to the touch – about 90% of their collection is handloom
- Single tailor sewn and you find out who made your clothes – artisans get their due
- Prices are higher than what we’re used to for shirts from indie labels
- Kardo don’t do plains or staples, so you need to be just a little adventurous with your styling to pull them off
- No online store currently
Use code DEFINITELYCURRY when ordering from Kardo and get 10% off on their new collections
Kardo is a designer fashion brand in its traditional sense
Overall, one thing which really strikes me is that Kardo is quite old-school. About fabric, garment construction, new launches and even how they sell their clothes. Firstly, they do two annual collections in limited runs – Spring Summer and Autumn Winter, as traditionally seen in the fashion world. Then each of their collections has a separate lookbook. And they have agents and retailers across the world, with Rikki Kher, Kardo’s founder, regularly visiting global locations they are stocked in.
They currently don’t have an online store (coming in late 2019) and appreciate it when people reach out to ask for a catalogue or look book, browse it and then place an order via email or message, making for a more engaged, human exchange.
This lies outside the template of today’s digital business, which talks the language of same day delivery, buy-one-get-one and quick merchandise updates on e-shops. But this is also reflected in their desire to slow it all down a notch by using handlooms and hand construction. There is no right or wrong here, just difference in approach. Charm and practicality are invariably at odds with each other.
The shirts through which I got to know the brand
I got two short sleeves shirts and one long sleeve from their Spring Summer 2019 collection. They’re called Sai, Franklin and Rodney. I got them in Medium size, which is what I usually wear and they fit me just fine. I like that their fit isn’t slim and is more relaxed, which I also find working better with Kardo’s aesthetic and the summer vibes of the shirts. In case of the short sleeves, length of the sleeves wasn’t short, retaining a classic silhouette. Whereas the shirt length is kept in a way that it’s easy to wear tucked out.
All of Kardo’s shirts are essentially about little touches – camp collars, interesting pockets, colour accents, balanced asymmetry and so much more. You can see this clearly even in the shirts I have. The sky blue Sai has a pocket on the inside, with only stitching visible on the outside. Franklin, the patch shirt in blue has three different kind of check fabrics used across the shirt in a harmonious and pleasing manner. Whereas the Rodney in grey and black uses a single fabric, but one which has three different patterns on it. There’s always something going on.
Sai and Rodney use handwoven fabrics, while Franklin doesn’t. I’m partial to Sai for its soothing colour and because it fits my personal style best. But I’ve also really enjoyed experimenting outside my comfort zone with the Franklin and Rodney.
Coming to the details that are common to all shirts, there are a few Kardo signatures. The most prominent one is a deep blue button, placed second from top and with red stitching. The other is a tab at the back of the collar with multi-colour stripes. All of Kardo’s buttons have the brand’s name on them. Of course, looking at the tag which mentioned the names of artisans who created these shirts put a smile on my face. It reminds me of Korra Jeans, who do something similar with the maker’s signature.
Living with Kardo’s handmade shirts
I received the shirts in a simple brown packet with understated Kardo branding. On taking out the shirts, my immediate reaction was that I felt really good about what I saw, because there’s an evident realness to the fabric. A part of it can be attributed to the handwoven nature of two of the shirts. But also that Kardo isn’t relying on sheen to communicate the premium nature of their creations. Sheen, unfortunately, has become a de facto, sub-conscious indicator of quality for many of us while making a purchase decision. Wearing Kardo helped me confront and challenge that for myself too, to frame an alternate definition of what premium can be.
It’s the no-sheen, handloom and low-saturation colour attributes that give Kardo shirts the retro or vintage vibe I mentioned earlier. It’s an interesting look that people into minimalist lifestyles are likely to enjoy.
Since the nature of my work doesn’t demand formal attire, I wore the shirts everywhere. They do have an individuality factor, which I really enjoyed. I had no trouble pairing them with jeans or chinos and even charcoal grey linen pants, which go quite well with the blue shirts. The kind of shirts Kardo make are perfect for almost anything, including evenings out, especially if you like to keep it relaxed and casual.
Just one point of caution with the care routine. The fabrics are really nice, mostly handwoven, so make sure you put them through gentle wash cycles, use minimal wringing and dry them in shade.
Overall impression about Kardo
Wearing the shirts has been a pleasure as they’re really light and comfortable – the fabrics feel like they’re high quality. Especially the Rodney, which is made from a feather-light, soft high-count handwoven fabric (kind of like the khadi shirt we reviewed from Bareek). Stitching and finishing look cleanly done too – no complaints there.
The experience had two stand-outs for me. One, the feel of wearing, these light, airy shirts was great in the summer and somehow had a calming impact. Two, the shirts are layered and distinctive in their design, which makes glancing at the details enjoyable every time. Wearing a Kardo shirt, in some sense, is auto-addition of some flair to your look. Their designs within a collection allow you choose how much flair you’d like to add or what your personal style allows. But I like that they challenge the norm and take chances. This also means some designs can be polarising and not everything they make will appeal to the same buyer. But if you dig deeper, you should be able to find something to your liking.
If you bond with Kardo’s design philosophy and slow construction approach, there’s a lot to admire in what they do. Rikki calls it ‘considered design’ and that’s quite an apt way of putting it. Fun fact – Kardo is actually Rikki’s nickname.
Pricing and buying
Prices for Kardo’s handwoven fabric shirts range between ₹6,250-₹6,750. Shirts that don’t use handwoven fabrics range between ₹5,250-₹5,750. They also do shorts, jackets and pants. Check out their latest collections on the website at KardoDesign.com. They currently don’t have an online store, but are expecting to launch it later in 2019.
(Reader exclusive discount: Use code DEFINITELYCURRY when ordering from Kardo and get 10% off on their new collections)
Pricing puts Kardo in the expensive, premium bracket for shirts, but they do have some strong differentiators in their offbeat designs, high quality handlooms and handmade methodology. That way, comparing them with mass-produced brands is unjust.
They have one exclusive retail store in New Delhi’s Shahpur Jat, and are stocked at Delhi’s Second Floor Studio, as well as Clove and Le Mill in Mumbai. Click here for a full list of their Indian and international stockists. You can write to them on their Instagram page (@thisiskardo) or email ([email protected]) for any questions, to ask for a catalogue or place orders.
Kardo have collaborated with brands like Anokhi (available exclusively at select Anokhi stores in Delhi, Jaipur, Kochi) and Safomasi (see the collection here). These use fabrics from the respective collaborator brands and are therefore, priced lower. While shirts in the Kardo X Anokhi collection are about ₹2,500, pricing for the Kardo X Safomasi collection is ₹4,500.
Kardo as a brand is niche, stylish, polarising and responsible. For an indie label, those are all great characteristics because they signify uniqueness. Don’t go here for solids and staples, because you won’t find them. Rather, look for something slightly adventurous that your personal style can handle and enjoy the character their handmade creations come with.
Kardo have a very consistent idea of what a carefully designed, detail-oriented and fashionable shirt should be like. And they’ve managed to not corner themselves into a certain aesthetic by placing any design limitations, which keeps the brand fresh and unpredictable. Kardo’s appeal may be niche by they’re definitely very different.
What did you think of Kardo’s shirts? Different from what you usually see? Know any others like them? 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!