At the time of our interview, Kanika Karvinkop was supposed to be in New York City for a pop-up event with No Borders, her concept shop based in Mumbai, India. “I was literally supposed to be there now to plan our event which was scheduled for Earth Day,” she tells me over a WhatsApp call. “But everything got canceled.”
We spoke on March 23rd, just one day before the Indian government imposed a three-week nationwide lockdown in an attempt to contain the spread of COVID-19 within the country.
“We also canceled our Spring/Summer 2020 launch, because it’s not the right time,” Karvinkop says.
Kanika Karvinkop is the founder of No Borders, a fashion and lifestyle store in Mumbai that stocks South Asian brands alongside local art and designer vintage. She cut her teeth in fashion as a Junior Stylist at Grazia India and later a freelance stylist in New York, where she had i-D, Nylon, Wonderland, Bullett, V Magazine (and Refinery29) as clients.
No Borders is run by a tightly knit team, with Karvinkop overseeing the general operations while personally handling all of the shop’s creatives, merchandizing, and social media marketing on her own.
At No Borders, one can find a colorful array of contemporary South Asian clothing next to vintage pieces from the likes of Dior, Hermes, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, and Oscar de la Renta, most of which are shockingly priced within the USD $200 range. There’s also local jewelry, artwork, and magazines, all from South Asia, South America, or Africa.
Karvinkop’s mission through No Borders is threefold: First, to grow global brand recognition for and give credit to under-represented international designers; second, to promote sustainable vintage shopping in India whose retail scene is split between the extremes of luxury and fast fashion; and third, to provide a platform for cultural exchange without any borders, a key value that gave birth to the shop’s name.
No Borders is one of many independent businesses around the world that are affected by the coronavirus outbreak. “The government has taken measures to see that no one unnecessarily steps out of their homes. As scary as it may seem to have no cars or even bicycles on the street, this is a sacrifice we must make.” Karvinkop says. “It’s just overwhelming.”
Within the course of one week since Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced India’s lockdown, the country’s confirmed cases rose from less than 600 to more than 1800, a number projected to increase to hundreds of millions.
But rather than just shutting its doors, No Borders is taking action to continue to tell creative stories, and to inspire, educate, and connect with its followers through the internet and social media.
Karvinkop founded No Borders in April of 2018 upon returning to Mumbai from New York. Inspired by the beauty and history of South Asian fashion, she quickly garnered interest among her network of local designers and launched her first curated collection to much success. No Borders Shop, situated in a 200-year-old heritage building in the quaint village of Khotachiwadi, immediately received positive feedback from visitors, some of whom were skeptical at first. “Vintage clothing is a relatively new concept in India. I vividly remember this one customer who asked me, ‘Why would anyone wear hand-me-downs?’ I took the time to explain all the reasons why not, and she bought more than one piece that day. Along the way, one of my priorities turned into educating and helping customers understand why we do what we do. I want to make a real change in getting the word out there about sustainability.”
Even over the phone, Karvinkop exudes a huge amount of energy, so much so that one could imagine her gesturing passionately at the other end of the receiver. While it is precisely this passion that has helped push No Borders so far, Karvinkop’s business wasn’t always fueled by positive energy. “My dad passed away one month after I opened the shop. He was my biggest inspiration and I changed after that. I went through a very, very rough period with deep depression, and No Borders was the only thing that kept me going. I took a step back and focused on No Borders, and it was just really nice to meet people who had the same vision as me, who wanted to talk about the same things.”
The global outbreak of COVID-19 has brought yet another difficult challenge to Karvinkop and her community. But just as she came out of past hardships by focusing on what she can do, Karvinkop is using No Borders to serve as a platform for fostering positivity and awareness at a time when both are in desperate demand.
No Borders is sharing details of the lives of people under lockdown, both in and outside India. The stories, which are posted on Instagram with the hashtag #NBGlobalDiaries, range from a veterinarian’s efforts to care for stranded pets wrongly accused of spreading the virus, to an international student’s inability to come home from a semester abroad. “It’s a great way to truly understand the seriousness of our current situation and help depict the reality of different people,” Karvinkop says.
There are also positive stories, like the introduction of Minal Dakhave Bhosale, the Pune-based female virologist who provided India with the country’s first testing kit for COVID-19.
“We share personalized encounters as a way of showing how everyone is affected differently, regardless of the fact that we’re all in this together. The level of suffering or hardship isn’t the same for everyone — so many people have it way harder than we could ever imagine.”
At its core, No Borders is about bringing together creatives from all fields, with a focus on South Asia. “I’m very inspired by the diversity of South Asia. Even within India, every state has a different language, different culture and different traditions,” Karvinkop explains, from her firsthand experience moving around countless cities in India. “My dad was in the Air Force, so we travelled all over the country — I went to a different school every two to three years. When I grew up, all of that sort of came back to me.” Besides Indian brands, No Borders also stocks brands from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Morocco, Ghana, Peru, and Puerto Rico.
When buying for the shop, Karvinkop always looks for designers that are inspired by their own country, use raw materials from their region and employ local artisans for production. From No Borders’ brand lineup, Karvinkop’s current favorites are Rastah, I am Isigo and Bodice.
In addition to serving as a platform for under-represented designers, No Borders places importance on turning cultural appropriation into cultural appreciation. “A lot of people outside India can have a very cliche view on Indian fashion. I feel like some people think it is mostly Bollywood or over-the-top bridal,” Karvinkop points out. “But although designers are inspired by their history, indigenous techniques and craftsmanship that has lasted for centuries, they are creating pieces for today. They are keeping it modern without losing the real essence of their rich culture. Educating our consumers on this is our responsibility.”
While No Borders’ physical shop will remain closed for the time being, its online store is up and running. In between binge-watching The Handmaid’s Tale and Black Mirror, Karvinkop is planning a future Brooklyn outpost for No Borders and possibly a modeling agency. “All the girls that shoot with us end up signing somewhere and getting famous,” Karvinkop says with a laugh. “It’s kind of crazy.”
And of course through No Borders, Karvinkop will continue to tell firsthand accounts of people around the world who are going through the coronavirus pandemic. “This is a really hard time. We have to be empathetic towards one another. We have to share, make sacrifices and get creative during this time on how we can reach out and help in whatever way we can.”
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