The first time Saeed and Katy Al-Rubeyi, the husband and wife co-founders of Story mfg, visited an atelier in India in pursuit of handwoven cloth, they came across what they initially perceived as a flaw in the fabric. On the workbench was a reel of cotton with an area of “chatter” – a ladder-like strip of holey irregularity. Saeed asked the weaver what had happened. “I expected some kind of technical reason,” he recalls. “But the guy said, ‘Oh, that’s where I went for a cup of tea and stopped then restarted weaving.’” The cloth had a story. The couple were hooked. 

Antik Batik cotton voile hand-printed Tajar jacket, £425, matching vest, £250, matching trousers, £300, and braided leather Galy belt, £205
Antik Batik cotton voile hand-printed Tajar jacket, £425, matching vest, £250, matching trousers, £300, and braided leather Galy belt, £205 © Carmine Romano
Story MFG organic cotton Seed bomber jacket, £1,150

Story mfg organic cotton Seed bomber jacket, £1,150

Story mfg organic cotton Lush Carpenter pants, £525

Story mfg organic cotton Lush Carpenter pants, £525

They decided to turn that chatter into a design feature on the pocket of an oversized utilitarian jacket: “We embraced the imperfect and promoted it.” It’s become the USP of Story mfg, the unisex label he and Katy founded in Brighton in 2013 – the “mfg” is an abbreviation for manufacturing. “Heritage is another word for a story, but as a new brand back then we didn’t have one,” says Saeed. “Instead, it became about the heritage of every item we made.”

Story mfg is one of a number of labels reframing the handmade and the homespun as a luxury must-wear. Labels such as Kardo and Ōshadi (from India), Needles and Nepenthes (Japan), Percival, YMC and Pikol (UK), Antik Batik (France) and Andersson Bell (Korea) sell wares that could, at first glance, seem to have been plucked from the rails of a vintage store – think shirts with playfully imperfect hand embroideries, 1960s-style shaggy sweaters with threadbare details, plus 1990s-era trousers with patches of irregular dye. Menswear is shunning its sober image in favour of pieces that are more “expressive”, according to Rikki Kher, the founder of Kardo; he’s been turning block-printed cottons into boxy jackets and hand-loomed ikat into oversized shirts since establishing his brand in 2013. “Slowly, there’s been a shift towards colour and prints that are less rigid in structure and allow the wearer to showcase their individuality,” he says.

Two looks from Andersson Bell
Two looks from Andersson Bell

If men have got more comfortable wearing spirited pieces, it’s thanks largely to Bode, the New York brand that popularised the boho-luxe revival with its patchwork eiderdown jackets, quaint cartoon knitwear and embellished trousers. Celebrity endorsement has only fuelled demand: Bode’s clientele includes athletes (Travis Kelce, Michael B Jordan), actors (Utkarsh Ambudkar, Ryan Reynolds) and artists (Jay-Z and Harry Styles). 

Bode quilted-cotton log cabin workwear jacket, $1,800
Bode quilted-cotton log cabin workwear jacket, $1,800
Kardo hand-loomed ikat Chintan shirt, £157

Kardo hand-loomed ikat Chintan shirt, £157

Story mfg organic cotton brew hat, £195

Story mfg organic cotton brew hat, £195

Nishanth Chopra, founder of Ōshadi, notes that this joie de vivre is a return to past form. “Back in the day, Indian men did wear bright colours, beautifully printed turbans and exceptionally crafted shawls,” he says. The embrace of gender neutrality in clothing has also been key. And fabrics that could, to some, appear a bit hempy – more aligned with the stone circle at Glastonbury Festival than in Brooklyn or Shoreditch – have been “recontextualised” with clean, oversized silhouettes that draw from workwear. No harem pants here. “It’s about form and function in clothing,” says Kher, who cites Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto among his inspirations. Some of Kardo’s more delicate fabrics, which feature on chore coats, are lined with a sturdier cloth to lend practicality. Adds Chopra: “It’s not a hippie look.”

Pikol repurposed-tablecloth shirts, £265 each
Pikol repurposed-tablecloth shirts, £265 each © Louis Gilbert

The trend is also driven by more political ideas. “Our concept was to utilise female craft that was done by women in the home and make men’s clothing out of it,” says Bode’s designer Emily Adams Bode Aujla, who repurposes everything from tablecloths to handkerchiefs. It also shifts the focus onto old and endangered crafts. British label YMC offers denim shirts stitched with bird motifs and shackets with “rice stitch” detailing. “With everything mass-made today, handcraft has almost become punk,” says Saeed Al-Rubeyi. 

Fashion has long been a vehicle for protest. Today, it’s not just the clothes that are a method of dissent. Young designers “feel let down by the established fashion system, and are speaking out to question it”, says Sandy Black, professor of fashion and textile design & technology at the London College of Fashion and author of several books about sustainability and craft. “They want the system to change, and want themselves to be the agents of change.”

Oshadi regenerative-cotton quilted tailor shirt, $375, and bucket hat, $95
Oshadi regenerative-cotton quilted tailor shirt, $375, and bucket hat, $95 © Raajadharshini

The way a fashion brand functions today is entwined in social and environmental politics, and young designers are holding themselves accountable. Ōshadi is a grassroots example. Its founder, Chopra, grew up in a family of makers in the garment-production heavy region of Tamil Nadu, where the Kaveri river ran red with dyes expelled from factories. Ōshadi was established in 2015 and works with a farm in Erode where cottons are grown, then woven and naturally dyed in neighbouring villages, and cut and sewn back at the farm.

“Our seed-to-sew process celebrates the farmer, the earth, the craftspeople and the materials,” he says. “Our customers can trace their shirt from the field, confident in the knowledge that it’s made by a collective who are paid a living wage.”

Percival crocheted Sour Patch Cuban shirt, £179
Percival crocheted Sour Patch Cuban shirt, £179 © Libby Pearce

Small-scale, steady and sustainable is often the manufacturing ethos. Percival’s main European supplier uses solar energy to power its production runs, according to the brand’s founder Chris Gove, who is based in London. Kher, meanwhile, says that khadi cloth – which is hand-spun and hand-woven – can take up to 60 days to make. “The fabric is naturally dyed, which can take another month,” he says. But there’s something to be treasured about this pace of production. Each of Kardo’s pieces is made by one tailor from start to finish and has a care label sewn in, naming the makers. 

Handmade wares were once considered impossible to sell online, given each rendition looked slightly different. Now, Story mfg is sold at Mr Porter and Goodhood, Kardo at Bergdorf Goodman and Andersson Bell at SSENSE. “The same thing that happened to coffee and wine has happened to craft in clothing,” says Al-Rubeyi. “People are hungry for knowledge.”

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