Peruvian designer Devika Dass is revolutionising the knitwear industry. Here’s how
By Diane Small
It wasn’t always this way. Dass’s path was initially academic, but she soon realised her true calling was in fashion, and she graduated from the prestigious Central St Martin’s college of fashion in 2005 with a degree in womenswear.
During her time at St Martin’s, Dass worked as a key creative consultant to Matthew Williamson; was an accessories designer for Ghost and Louis de Gama and Head Designer for Tashia ready to wear.
Unsurprisingly, when she graduated, she was snapped up by Emilio Pucci in Italy, where she remained for almost three years, working her way up to First Design Assistant to the Creative Director. She moved on to Maharishi womenswear and a variety of consultancy projects before beginning her own label, after having been inspired on a holiday.
“The idea for the business came from a trip in 2012 to South America, finding a knitting circle of incredible women in a remote part of Peru, who were literally knitting to survive,” she says. “I was amazed by them: their skills and as women trying to preserve this ancient Andean tradition. It was from here that it all began and I started to develop some swatches with these women.”
Devika says “ I remember looking for an opportunity, I wanted something that would work both creatively and financially, but also be in a position to be able to give something back; I didn’t want the circle to end with me. I wanted to be in a cyclical chain where I knew where I was giving back and to whom. The women I met in a remote part of Peru seemed to fit the idea of what I had been looking for. There were no factories or machines, just collectives of women in these incredible hats and their 20 layers of petticoats knitting together, some with their children.” And so Dass’s dedication to sustainable fashion was born.
For her own line, Dass insisted on using organic and traditional production practices. She was completely fascinated by the fact that centuries ago, the Inca recorded their history not by telling stories or writing them down, but by communicating them through knit tapestries. “I was overwhelmed by the way the women worked and the quality of their hand knitting, I immediately put some samples into work with them,” says the designer.
Dass understood the Peruvian’s affection for wool: “For me knitwear has been something which has always felt safe, cosy and slightly cocooning; almost a return to the womb,” she says. “Out of anything else in my closest it was my pieces of knitwear that I had the most intimate relationship with, because of the feelings they would invoke just simply by wearing them. This was the idea behind the souring of the yarns, I had to find something very precious to invoke the wearer in this way.”
Devika Dass sourced local yarns in Peru; the precious wools she selects are of the highest quality available and include top grade baby Alpaca, pima cotton and silk, dyed and spun in sustainable, traditional ways.
Turning away from typical mass manufacturing techniques and channels, Devika works with only the most skilled local Peruvian craftspeople in traditional knit techniques, together celebrating the idea of artisanal skill and creating extraordinary pieces.
Each garment in the collection is special and exclusive, from a crochet top that took one woman more than a month to make, to the textured knits that reshape the wearer’s body into a new, stronger silhouette. The current SS/2014 collection boasts handmade Tenerife lace, dragon crochet techniques and textured macrame, and is sold at Feathers in London.
From archetypal Londoner to honorary Peruvian, the fashion path of Devika Dass has taken her far. Long may her journey continue.