As transparency in the realm of luxury fashion has increased – perhaps in part due to the nature of social media, and the now intrinsic desire of the consumer to discern real value in their purchases, artisanal brands have surged in prominence and popularity.
The nature of the artisan is to eschew fallacious marketing and excessive branding efforts, instead harbouring an exacting focus on craftsmanship, and crucially, offering a superior product at rational, uninflated price points – thus delivering value for money.
This phenomenon is particularly true of Dutch-based shirt maker 100Hands, whose aplomb in shirt making has seen them challenge not only larger scale brands, but also their smaller, artisanal counterparts on the premise of their unrivalled excellence in and dedication to their craft – to the point where their shirts feature the most handmade processes of any shirt in the world.
Some months ago now, we got to know Varvara and Akshat Jain – the Amsterdam-based duo at the helm of 100Hands, after following each other’s work on Instagram – such is the connective prowess of social media. Having previously heard of their brand through an entrepreneurial endeavour of our own, albeit knowing little of them, our intrigue was palpable. And so, after exchanging obligatory introductory emails and getting to know both Varvara and Akshat through Skype, we proceeded to have some shirts made – one under their black label (featuring 16 points of handcraftsmanship) and one under their gold label (featuring 30-32 points of handcraftsmanship – which will be the focus of this article).
Interestingly, the 100Hands name was conceived on account of each shirt passing through approximately 100 hands (or 50 pairs of hands) during its meticulous production, which takes place over 2 to 3 days. But perhaps even more interesting to some will be the origins of their shirts – being made outside of the traditional epicentres for high-end artisanal craftsmanship of Britain, Italy and Japan, bur rather being made in India.
However, quashing any preconceived concerns pertaining to country of origin, is the fact that 100Hands actually supplies 30% of Savile Row with their shirts, as well as working with a selection of Parisian houses.
The obscure country of origin actually establishes a unique market position for 100Hands whereby the sole barometer for quality is the degree to which they are able to perfect their craft – not relying on the prestige of the country or region from which their product emanates. Refreshingly, this is in essence, the purest form of artisanship we are yet to come across.
Upon receiving my Gold Line shirt, I was immediately impressed – such ineffable precision and attention to detail in workmanship I am yet to see rivalled in shirting. Cut from a lightweight 115 gram white cotton twill cloth courtesy of S.I.C. Tess, and featuring 4mm mother of pearl buttons, the hand stitching is not obscured by any pattern or colour in the fabric and is indeed the hallmark of the shirt – a subtle indication as to quality that only few would recognise and appreciate – and therein lies a part of the charm of 100Hands shirts. Interestingly, and perhaps the greatest indicator of quality – there is not a single loose thread anywhere throughout the shirt (owing to their use of French seams and gussets which I will speak of below).
More crucial than mere aesthetics however, is the purpose behind such intricacies in construction and stitching – a point reaffirmed by Varvara and Akshat on multiple occasions throughout our discussions – a testament to their perspective on artisanship.
As a bespoke shirt, the process begins with drawing the pattern by hand and then accordingly cutting the cloth by hand. Interestingly, their ready-to-wear shirts are produced in exactly the same manner (only to a standard size pattern). For me, this pattern has taken into account my size and shape with particular attention paid to my posture, the pitch of my shoulders, how my arms hang from the shoulders and the height of my neck with respect to the chest. Owing to analysis on my posture, 100Hands were able to cut my shirt with a slightly higher front to improve the collar stance – allowing the shirt to sit well when left open at the collar (sans tie), and sitting comfortably without any folds around the neck when it is buttoned.
Admittedly, the fit is perhaps not 100% perfect (albeit, I feel it is very close and had to look very hard to find fault in it – it is still by far the most comfortable shirt I own) given that the pattern was based off a series of body measurements and photos I provided Varvara and Akshat instead of the suggested fitting mould methodology. Some very slight adjustments to the chest, waist and biceps, sleeve rotation and cuff in my subsequent shirts will amend these with ease.
In a technologically driven age, it is often thought that drawing and cutting patterns via machines yields more accurate results – and whilst this may be true in terms of precision to the millimetre, drawing and cutting pattern by hand as 100Hands does, allows them to finesse specific details surrounding the posture. What’s more, when cutting the fabric they don’t layer panels on top of one another – preferring to cut each individually. According to Varvara, this labour intensive, time consuming process is integral in allowing their artisans to match the pattern (be that checks or stripes) at every point where the cloth is stitched or intersects with another panel – as this cannot be replicated in machine work.
Similarly, the buttonholes are all handcrafted – embroidered in fact, to imbue their edges with density and strength akin to a Milanese buttonhole found on suits. Again, this process is time consuming and labour intensive, requiring 40 to 60 minutes of work per buttonhole, however is justified by there being no loose threads on any buttonholes – an impressive feat of artisanship, but also ensuring the shirt’s longevity.
Being cut from such a lightweight fabric, burdening the shirt with excess material (not to mention stiffness and weight) in the seams would be somewhat of a travesty. However, it is often difficult to achieve this without leaving the edges of the fabric exposed on the inside of the shirt – which can afflict the shirt’s longevity. In a display of their artisanal acumen, 100Hands employ incredibly fine French seams – effectively meaning they have enclosed the edges of the fabric (along the inside seams of the shirt) by folding the fabric onto itself and stitching it shut.
Also of note are the gussets, which secure all threads running along the side seams. Often misused purely as a marketing façade on machine made shirts, gussets serve purpose only where hand craftsmanship is present, with their purpose being to bolster the strength of the seams as well as concealing loose threads.
Outside of the attention to detail in stitching, perhaps what held the most intrigue was the complete and utter lack of rigidity through the collar and sleeve cuffs – a rarity for shirts of both high and low quality, and I feel is one of the defining disparities between 100Hands and other similarly priced shirtmakers who I sampled for the purposes of this story – namely Barba Napoli and Canali whose shirts I found noticeably stiffer through the collar and cuff, and subsequently, far less comfortable when compared to my shirt from 100Hands.
As is typical of artisanal clothing, softness through the collar and cuffs can be attributed to two things; interfacing and construction methodology – wherein 100Hands not only use a very fine interfacing, but also attach it by hand using a small iron on low heat without the use of larger industrial machinery. By hand, the process takes 20 minutes – a stark contrast to the immediacy of fusing machines. However, the fruits of such labour are not lost, and leave the interfacing feeling more like a floating canvas than fusing – something I have not yet encountered elsewhere in shirting.
Again, as is typical of artisanal clothing, it invariably reaches a point where limited benefit is extrapolated from certain features in a garment – this is true of my 100Hands shirt where they have attached the sleeve placket, sleeve cuff and front placket by hand – all cosmetic in nature. However, as I have previously iterated in relation to my Drake’s tie, it is these features which are particularly charming and garner a real emotional connection in the clothing, and I personally derive much enjoyment from them – they are indicative of an unbridled passion and dedication to crafting the finest shirts in the world without compromise – a pursuit held by few, if any.
My sentiments towards 100Hands (and in particular Varvara and Akshat) are those of absolute admiration – they defy convention and indeed the economics of technologically enabled mass production through adhering to a set of traditional methods, crafting shirts of supreme quality without compromising a single detail in construction, all whilst maintaining a distinct value proposition – the culmination of which is a fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable sartorial experience. To this end, I would urge all sartorial enthusiasts to engage with 100Hands now whilst they remain in their infancy – not only will you secure your place at the vanguard of artisanal shirt marking, but will have access to their garments prior to an inevitable demand-induced price rise.
For those of you wishing to get in contact with 100Hands, Varvara has suggested you direct your enquiries to info@100Hands.nl
Photography courtesy of: