Homegrown Label Bakr's Elevated Casual Wear Fuses Tradition With Timeless Design

Homegrown Label Bakr's Elevated Casual Wear Fuses Tradition With Timeless Design

Years ago, I came across the profile of a Malayali artist who worked with natural colours and had a signature aesthetic. He played around with colour and lines in a truly unique manner and that came through his works. In following him and engaging further, I came to know that the artist who went by the username @hizmoh was also a textile designer who had recently graduated from NIFT and was working with the reputed Label 11.11. The conversation that started on Instagram extended to him eventually writing an op-ed for the fashion publication I was working on for my senior project. Mohamed Hizqeel and his thoughts and experience of working with traditional artisans and the many long-standing dyeing techniques that they use was something that added an unexpected insider's perspective to what was essentially my make-shift senior project, and it made a world of a difference. Over the years, our conversations dwindled down and eventually stopped altogether. 

But recently, when talking about original labels based out of Kerala, Kaleekal - a designer who is doing incredible work in his own right - mentioned a Fort Kochi based designer who was doing incredibly original work and lo and behold, it was the same person that I knew half a decade ago. Hisqeel had worked for years with 11.11, rose through the ranks from being an intern and then during the pandemic, he moved into creating his own label - Bakr. While I expected there to be a bigger story behind the label, Hisqeel was quick to confess that the name was essentially eponymous. His family and loved ones call him Bakr and it was just a placeholder/obvious name that stuck. 

Homegrown Label Bakr's Elevated Casual Wear Fuses Tradition With Timeless Design
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While the name might have a pretty simple story behind it, the creation of the brand however was a long and intensive process that Hisqeel took his time with. After the initial concept took shape in his mind, he spent a solid year doing research and development. Today, the labels website says it is one that crafts a ‘limited series of premium, relaxed designs.’ But one has to understand the effort and nuance behind the meticulous process that goes into each piece from the label to truly comprehend what makes it a worthwhile sartorial investment. The gist of it is that that brand meticulously crafts attire such as tees, pants, shorts and scarves, in high-quality organic cotton, and carefully hand-prints/dyes them individually using labour and time-intensive traditional techniques. This approach is where the beauty of the label truly lies as the traditional technique and high quality is a promise of longevity, or even of the pieces ageing well, and not disintegrating like a usual casual wear piece would. 

Bakr focus can be summed up easily as “using traditional techniques in a modern context.” But what this means is that Hisqeel essentially does a deep dive into traditional techniques that date back thousands of years to create pieces that would stand the test of time and many, many wears. The one year of intensive R&D that went into creating the brand was mostly focused on learning these techniques, adapting them to simple modern day pieces and of Hisqeel hiring and training people within his locale in Fort Kochi to execute these processes. 

The literally ‘homegrown’ brand for which Hisqeel has created a workshop in his own terrace at home, is a study in authenticity and preservation of craft techniques in a new way. In being asked about what truly sets Bakr apart, Hisqeel circled back to the techniques they employ - they’re not working closely with traditional artisans like many brands, as is the norm. But rather, Bakr takes a traditional approach, but uses it in a modern way. According to him, “most places where people work with crafts, like block printing, produce large quantities for various brands worldwide and they churn out thousands of metres of fabric every month. But achieving this level of production using traditional methods is impossible. So they opt for faster alternatives. However, these alternatives often sacrifice authenticity for speed, using chemicals or modern processes instead of 100% natural dyes, but with Bakr we are taking a different approach.” 

What sets Bakr apart from other brands, especially those working with traditional crafts or T-shirts, is our in-house technique. I hire local individuals without design experience and train them in these traditional techniques we'd want to employ. We then screen print using our vats of 100% natural dyes, sticking to using dyeing methods that are thousands of years old. We don't just follow existing industry practices; we take traditional knowledge and apply it in our unique way."

Mohammed Hisqeel, Bakr Society

In talking about why he chose to use the format of elevated casuals - especially simple, but polished t-shirts, casual pants, shorts or even scarves, Hisqeel mentioned how it stemmed from his personal preference. While he loves art and colours, he mentioned that he has never really been a ‘fashion’ guy, and is the most comfortable in a well-crafted, sweat-wicking tee-shirt while going about his day. Even while thinking about those that would invest in his pieces, he thought of attire that is suitable for those who are in their 30s or older, who want a polished yet comfortable wardrobe that is still well-crafted, and timeless. His aim therefore, from the get-go was to create pieces that highlight a person, especially someone who isn’t a maximalist or would wear something emblazoned with typography or graphic design, as is the norm with casual/streetwear. 

Homegrown Label Bakr's Elevated Casual Wear Fuses Tradition With Timeless Design
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The design approach that Bakr follows of learning and adapting traditional dyeing techniques is what has given life to the many unique colours such as the Indigo Ice that is featured in our most popular ‘Imprint’ tee-shirt. Hisqeel mentioned how his approach towards using a traditional technique is the opposite of what many brands doing the same techniques do - they create the design first and then figure out a natural dyeing technique that can give them the result they want, while other brands look at the existing approach and techniques that artisans employ and create designs based on those. They employ techniques from all around the world that range from traditional Indian dyeing and printing techniques such as kalamkari to Japanese resist-dyeing technique that uses rice paste as a material to prevent the absorption of colour in certain areas. 

But the most standout aspect of Bakr is the development of organic vats of colour for dyeing in-house and even keeping these natural vats “alive”, much like one would a sourdough starter or a mother batch of Kombucha. For example, the vat of indigo that Hisqeel uses to dye his pieces is one that he has kept alive for a long period of time. What this means is that the technique of creating a dye vat begins by sourcing high quality, 100% organic raw material and then fermenting and processing it to make it a viable dye. After the dye has been activated, it can be kept alive and capable of dyeing clothes by ‘feeding’ and fermenting it to be active with varying natural meals - which might include, but isn’t limited to - ingredients like dates and jaggery. The process of achieving a particular colour also depends on the number of times the piece has been dipped into this vat of dye - while the Indigo Ice is formed on a plain tee-shirt with 2 to 3 dips, the pieces that feature the shade ‘Nightfall’ is essentially 12 dips in the same vat of colour for deeper saturation. 

The usage of extremely high-quality kala cotton fabric as the base for all their pieces and combining that with organic dyeing technique is what delivers on the aforementioned longevity of pieces from Bakr. The natural colours go deep into the threads of the fabric and bind strongly to them, and without any synthetic substances in the mix, the pieces age and change slowly, much like good quality leather would, but doesn’t disintegrate. This promise of longevity is another factor that makes Bakr's pieces truly unique and original. This is just the story behind one of the many dyeing techniques that Bakr has used to create their pieces. There are a large number of other techniques that Hisqeel has adapted for Bakr to create stunning original pieces in a variety of hues - from a beautiful red made from Madder Earth to a deep black hue achieved from treating and using the rust from iron rods. 

For those who love truly unique, intentionally created pieces in their wardrobe, Bakr is a label whose pieces might truly speak to you. These wardrobe staples are elegant, original and definitely a worthy investment for those who are mindful about their fashion choices. 

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