THE EYE loves dosa
It’s the under-the-radar fashion label that isn’t exactly a label, a brand most people have never heard of, with fervently loyal and devoted followers.
In every way ‘dosa’ is pretty unique.
Christina Kim who created the company with her mother , in 1984, prefers the description ‘eco- and human -friendly couture’.
But then Kim is an unusual human being and something of a fish out of water in the cut throat world of fashion. I can’t, for example, see her and Sir Phillip Green having much to say to one another and I doubt she will be invited on to his yacht.
Only Kim would celebrate the company’s 30th anniversary by asking devotees to post their most treasured ‘dosa’ garments back to her studio in L.A. on loan, ‘worn, torn, mended, in any state,’ to create the 2014 Traveller re-issue Collection, comprising mostly of updated recreations of her clientele’s favourite items.
About 138 well-worn pieces arrived at her studio from around the world. A small, limited edition selection of garments (all acknowledging the clients who participated) was created and most special and most ‘Kim’ is a truly beautiful work of art silk shawl with tiny images of the garments, a letter from her explaining the project and even reproductions of some of the envelopes bursting at the seams with clothes.
Fashion can indeed be art.
Thinker, maker, entrepreneur, artist and social activist, Kim regards connecting, making and designing with the customers who actually buy her work to be a key element in her successful business.
Extensive research often with scholars and textile experts have created an ongoing partnerships with local artisans –such as weavers of jamdani (fine cotton muslin) in Ahmedabad, or badla (traditional metal work embroidery) and kantha in other parts of India. Collaborations with fine-art paper makers from a co-operative in Oaxaca, Mexico, and Nigerian Gasali Onireke Adeyemo, artist and teacher of indigo dyeing, embroidery, quilting and appliqué. Work that is not only incredibly labour intensive and laboriously done by hand but in danger of disappearing.
Kim has an almost obsessive attention to the importance of detail and how things are made, paying two or three times the local labour rate. She believes that as well as appreciating the importance of techniques, colours, shapes and patterns of materials, the histories and identities of the communities she works with are a key part of the story.
Born in Seoul, the family moved to Los Angeles in 1971 when Christina was 15. She studied fine art, but sewing was always part of her life, and very early on she started to explore the idea of making simple and beautiful clothing using handcrafting processes.
When her mother retired she embarked on an exploration of collaborating with communities all over the world. Working with artisans she had a clear mission to keep alive traditional Japanese and Indian techniques such as tea or indigo dying, hand painting on silk and hand spun khadi textiles. She is concerned with encouraging people to consume less but cherish more the things they buy and wear.
The recycled materials which are incorporated into her creations have been gleaned from a variety of countries and cultural traditions. She works with non governmental organisations keeping her mark-ups low and promoting cultural and creative exchange, not exclusively for financial beneficial gain.
I admire Kim’s independence and her boldness.
Sustainability and re-cycling are in danger of becoming de-valued as mere marketing sound bites. It should no longer be a big deal or used as a badge of honour.
Re-cycling always played a major part for dosa, years before other designers latched on to it, long before things like the ‘Green Carpet’. Nowadays it’s a rather overworked cliché and ‘sustainability’ has a slightly smug ring to it.
dosa was the early trail blazer for ethical, interesting fashion and the fusion of art, design and creative exploration.
Not surprising last summer’s collection was inspired by the eery palette of the Joshua Tree National Park in California.
Dosa has limited retail distribution, with only a handful a of carefully selected (no department stores) in London.
(The Cross, Browns, Egg and Mouki Mou, a beautiful (fairly new) shop with divine merchandise in Chiltern Sreet), ‘dosa’s’ own store the size of a shoe box in Thompson Street, New York and typically ‘atypical’ in Marfa Texas.
In the global shopping world, it’s refreshing to find small niche companies like ‘dosa’ just doing their own thing, the right thing, and a clientele that respects it.