Drawing inspiration from Berber women’s tapestries, Hala Kaiksow, who taught herself how to weave by watching YouTube videos, was hooked to the craft from the moment she set her hands on a loom. Born and raised in Bahrain, the designer has always been surrounded by this type of handiwork. “Growing up, I was mesmerized by my grandmother’s knitting and her working with her hands,” she recalls. “I knew then it was something I wanted to do, and that I was interested in creating pieces.” Shortly after, Kaiksow’s grandmother taught her how to knit. But before launching her eponymous label, Kaiksow would go on to hone her creative skills at the School of Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University in Boston, where she cut her teeth sculpting before formally pursuing design at Italy’s prestigious fashion school Polimoda.
The trained sculptor and designer creates pieces that combine sustainable and unconventional fabrics such as latex, wood, and metal with more loom-appropriate materials like yarn. Kaiksow’s textiles are all handwoven in her atelier by herself and a group of Bahraini artisans in an attempt to preserve the art of weaving in the Gulf country. Not a single detail goes unnoticed — even buttons and closures are handmade, often using precious metals like gold. “I think craft and handwork is such a beautiful part of our Middle Eastern culture. We have been a hub of textiles and dyeing for centuries, and so it saddens me to see this industry and craftsmanship dying out so I feel the need to preserve it in any way I can,” notes the designer.
Extremely eco-conscious, Kaiskow follows a completely sustainable creative process, citing the irreversible and detrimental damage the fashion industry has done to the environment as the reason why she tries to be as thoughtful and conscious as possible when designing. For Spring 2018, the designer joined forces with non-profit organization Nomablue to create a dialogue between designers and NGOs focused on ocean and nature conservation. She had the chance to present her collection at Nomablue’s studio, which overlooks Paris’s Tuileries gardens.
Kaiksow’s handmade garments have been included in various group shows across the globe. Just recently, the Bahraini designer was shortlisted as one of the eight finalists for the Jameel 5 Prize, an international award for contemporary art and design inspired by Islamic tradition that is held every two years. “I was elated to even be nominated to apply so I was very excited to be selected to show among the other artists, it such a great honor,” she muses. Organized in collaboration with London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, the US $32,200 prize recognizes artists and designers working across fashion, architecture, and art. The pieces selected by Jameel Prize’s jury were the Kimono Vest and Thoub Nashal Jumpsuit from Kaiksow’s debut “Wandress” collection, which also granted her the International Fashion Showcase 2016 Fashion Utopias Award organized by the British Council. Though she wouldn’t go on to win, Kaiksow would leave her mark as the first-ever fashion designer to be shortlisted for the prestigious award.
Kaiksow’s pieces, which are currently on show at Victoria & Albert Museum until November 25, perfectly encapsulate her raw and experimental approach to a traditionally feminine craft. “I aim to create garments that protect their wearer but also make them feel like they can fully express who they are,” she explains. “I think it is important for garments to be consumed thoughtfully and to have time and effort put into them so that the wearer feels distinctive, which in my opinion, is the epitome of luxury.”