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Manufacturing Heroes: Diana Kakkar

DIANA KAKKAR

founder of

MAES LONDON

Approachable, inviting and creative aren’t always the things you’d associate with a garment manufacturer in east London but Diana is trying to overcome any preconceptions about this part of the industry with her high-end manufacturing studio MAES London.

Using experience gained during an extensive career that spans across India, Australia, the US and culminating in the UK where she had worked as a garment tech and product developer at Erdem, she took the plunge in 2018 and set up her own premium garment manufacturing unit specialising in high-end womenswear. She’s passionate about creating closer links between designers and manufacturers, whilst finding a growing demand for sampling and small-scale production here in the UK.

London’s East End used to be the heart of the UK rag trade, with fashion manufacturers, factories and dye houses found on every street corner but today you are more likely to find a coffee shop or tech start-up in this changing area of the city. But a short walk from Bethnal Green tube station, you’ll find MAES London – a high-end garment manufacturing unit offering CMT (cut, make and trim) services to a growing roster of both new and established luxury fashion designers.

It’s a light and contemporary space, with exposed brickwork and plants, and the hum of sewing machines fills the air. It feels like a place, designers would want to visit and they do, regularly, explains Diana. Born and educated in India, she studied economics and before graduating with a degree in fashion from a top university in Delhi. After working in Sydney and New York, she made London her home and she believes it is the most exciting city in the world for fashion.

Her interest in garment construction grew and she shifted her focus from design through to production with her role running the atelier for luxury womenswear designer Erdem, which caters to members of the Royal family and many A-list celebrities around the world.

It was here, as the team was working towards London Fashion Week once again, that she had her lightbulb moment and decided to start her own business.

“The days were long and there was always more to do,” she says.

“In a state of delirium, I woke up my partner at 5am and pitched him the idea for MAES London. To my surprise, he thought it was a brilliant idea and wanted to be a part of it. He handed in his notice that day! I followed him and handed in my notice two weeks later.”

Her idea was simple. She wanted to create a high-end garment manufacturing studio that put samples at the heart of the business, helping fashion designers create beautiful garments and turn their dreams into reality.

“A number of people close to me including friends, colleagues and relatives thought I was crazy to leave a stable and secure job that I loved,” she explains.

“I was also conscious that my partner, who had never worked in fashion, had put a lot of trust in me. But I found the more I talked about MAES London, the more convinced I was that this was the right move for me.”

MAES London, which is “seam” backwards, launched in January 2018 and in less than three years the company has quadrupled its studio space and its output, expanding from the two directors, Diana and her partner Joshua Rosario, to a team of fourteen people.

Although her career path may not be the obvious one, it is thanks to her years spent in the industry that Diana understands the quality required by high-end womenswear designers. She also has a firm grasp on the commercial side of the business, insisting that the intention should always be to sell collections to fund the next one.

“I have always looked at fashion as a kind of art, but art that you need to sell,” she says.

“With my economics background, my approach to fashion is beyond just creativity. It also has to make good business sense.”

She also counts planning, organising and problem-solving as some of her key attributes, as well as a great eye for detail.

“Our clients rely on my team to give them the best, and it is my job to train my team to understand my client’s needs.”

MAES London specialises in sampling, CMT production, development and pattern cutting, with the skilled team adept at a range of techniques including lock stitching, overlocking, buttonholes, binding and cover stitching. The team can work with all woven fabrics including silk, satin, chiffon, velvet, embroidery, organza and print placement.

Diana is on her feet for most of the day and is very hands-on in each and every project.

“I love the engineering of clothes,” she says. “Quite often you’ll see me working with a machinist looking for the best way to approach a garment, technical solutions are one of the core values of our business.”

She explains: “We have an incredibly talented team here that I trust implicitly to maintain our high standards and to respect my brand vision. As we’ve grown I’ve been able to delegate more so I can focus on business development and planning the future of the company while ensuring delivering quality in a timely manner is the topmost priority.”

As part of her UKFT Manufacturing Membership, Diana has a mentor and business coach from the industry who she says provides her with invaluable support as the continues to grow.

Looking to the future, she plans to extend operations to include a production unit that caters to the needs of early-stage luxury designers, which may not be showing at events like London Fashion Week yet but have a good wholesale order book. She also recently launched a new company, Greige Prints. Aimed at textile designers, it offers six fully factored loungewear designs where she manages the whole process of printing the artwork on a luxurious fabric and produces the final garments in her manufacturing studio.

“We are on a mission to make luxury fashion manufacturing more approachable and easier,” she says.

Diana’s passion for the creative production process is infectious. She has been invited to speak to students at a number of London’s fashion schools about the opportunities in manufacturing and this is something she’d like to pursue further.

“There are so many fantastic jobs that the industry has to offer outside of traditional buying and designing roles, and I want to demonstrate how exciting and glamorous manufacturing can be,” she says.

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