The world of Eka is a magical place where dreams come true and whimsy is better than order. It’s a place where imagination overrides reality and poetry only works as a nonsensical limerick. It’s a space where fabric is made in a village in Bengal, dyed in a village in Gujarat, tailored into frocks in Haryana and shipped to little boutiques in Europe. It sounds like the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, the Wonderland-inspired live backdrop of the label’s recent fashion show in Mumbai, except, all of it is true.
Stories have always been the inspiration for Rina Singh, the designer who founded the label in 2011. “I was always bunking the sports class at boarding school. I had no elbow or hustle, I would rather escape to the library to be with Noddy and his friends, or any of the other half-real characters,” she says. Her mother had passed on when she was just a toddler, and her aunt became her step-mum. “She would tell me my mother would embroider for hours on end, and I started to cut and sew. I hope I got that from her. Of course, later the books had turned into fashion magazines, sourced from old newspaper vendors from across town. But I found my respite in fashion, my escape. Fashion is a superpower. Our clothes are our armour,” says Singh, in her mid-40s now.
Top Notch  Rina Singhs Eka is one of the finest labels that upgrades the crafts of India
Singh then went on to study at Wigan & Leigh in India and was invited to pursue a scholarship in the UK. She came back and worked for four years at NIFT. She worked with craft clusters all over India. She stayed in Gujarat and researched on the dance tribes of the state, put together the Porbandar Khadi and Surat Gota projects for the school.
Then, she was ready to create Eka. It’s a charming, disarming textile-first label that makes relaxed and luxurious western wear for the world. Her fabrics are mostly cotton, some even in the rarest of rare 500-thread count jamdani (it’s said there are only three master weavers in India who can make this otherworldly cloth), delicately detailed with embroidered floral motifs that are so fine you may think they are prints. Her buttons have tiny embroideries on them too. And the shapes are beguilingly lounging, they actually require a sophisticated pattern cutter.
Top Notch  Rina Singhs Eka is one of the finest labels that upgrades the crafts of India
Interestingly, Eka means one, and is the story of the individual efforts of several people that go into the making of just one item of clothing. “Eka felt great, it echoed my sentiments,” she smiles.
Unlike several labels who source textiles from artisans, Eka makes its own. “It’s a skill set we have acquired. The international market is aligned to what the Indian market creates. The foreign shopper wants what India has to offer. It’s herculean for them to weave fabric, or to print using wooden blocks, or to colour boiling a vegetable dye in a ‘pateela’ in their backyards. Places like the Victoria & Albert Museum, Egg boutique, Merci Paris and such have understood my pulse, and artisanal textiles from Phulia, Bhagalpur and Kutch,” she explains. Eka is available in India at Good Earth, Ogaan, Ensemble, Amethyst and Elan.
Top Notch  Rina Singhs Eka is one of the finest labels that upgrades the crafts of India
Working with rural India is a price in itself. “I have had so many learnings. Earlier on I had to take a flight to a city, then drive six hours into a village, sometimes take a boat across two villages too. Then we had to return via the same route before dusk or we would be stranded in the village! We could make dhoti fabric with some borders, you simpler things. Now the artisans are all WhatsApp-savvy. Now we design on CAD in our office computers and teach them how to pixelate flowers, and how that translates into jamdani. I know people say buy from the source, but the marketplace and experimentation that designers lend to artisans is so important too. Or else we’d only be wearing bandhani saris,” she laughs.
Eka isn’t afraid to call itself a sustainable fashion label despite every other label saying so for marketing greenwashing. “In India we don’t understand crafts or their ecosystem deeply. The Indian view of sustainability is more focused on livelihood, not just environment. They both have to go hand-in-hand, our crafts CANNOT die. So yes, craft sustainability for Eka is supreme, then we will use biodegradable yarn. My language is handmade and manmade, but no, my carbon footprint is not low. My craftsmen and I travel through states and ship internationally.”
It is perhaps this reason that Eka survived the two lockdowns. “People continued to order for clothes because we believe luxury and comfort go together. It felt wonderful to hear that people wore Eka to walk their dogs. I like to call my pieces clothes that you can live in. Eka is larger than a concept of fashion, it is your life story,” she says.
All that ethical brands like Eka need is the success of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ then, the book that has not gone out of print since 1865.
Top Notch’ is a fortnightly column where journalist Namrata Zakaria introduces us to fashion’s elite and erudite club.
Namrata Zakaria is a seasoned writer and editor, and a chronicler of social and cultural trends. Her first book, on late fashion designer Wendell Rodricks’ Moda Goa museum, is due to be published shortly. Zakaria is especially known for her insider’s take on fashion, luxury and social entrepreneurship in India. Her writing is appreciated for shaping opinions, busting myths, making reputations and sometimes breaking the odd career. Zakaria is also involved in putting together philanthropic efforts in the field of economic and environmental sustainability.
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