India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine
November 12, 2019

Street Wear Label Doh Tak Keh Is Transforming Street Scrap Into High Fashion

Text by Rushmika Banerjee. Realisation by Shweta Navandar. Photographs by Joshua Navalkar

Behind-the-scenes with Doh Tak Keh’s founder Juhi Melwani and her trusted aide Zuber masterji to witness the craft that goes into her wearable art.

“Doh Tak Keh in Hindi slang means ‘2 paise’ – a phrase commonly used by my mother to describe the way I dress. It also illustrates the irony of my creative process that involves the transformation of conventionally cheap looking materials into luxury products,” explains Juhi Melwani, the head designer of this luxury streetwear label that includes ready-to-wear separates such as pantsuits, skirt, jackets and trousers. Doh Tak Ke was conceptualised on the streets – a local neighbourhood Pydhonie in South Mumbai to be exact. “I walk Zuberji through my inspiration pictures, do quick graphic sketches and scribble notes while he brings his embroidery ideas to the table. Together, we take several rounds of Pydhonie and gather all sorts of materials – glass beads, raffia threads, textile waste and even single-use plastic products – things that are categorised as kachara (waste). We collect everything that draws our attention and then dump it into a basket next to him, after which he begins to create magic.” The ‘magic’ is comprised of hours of carefully curating techniques such as patchwork, hand appliqué, block print, deconstruction and illustrations on cotton khadi fabric. The resulting output is Kawakubo-meets-the Indian Karigar. It looks high-fashion, tipping towards couture, and each garment is a visual lesson in sustainable storytelling.

If you spot a Doh Tak Ke garment on the streets, you will be drawn towards its unique form, eye-catching details and artwork that should be preserved in a museum. “In the early days of collection building, I used to spend hours with my in-house hand embroiderer, Zuber ji, who brainstorms every design with me from scratch. We try to achieve a clothing line that is simply a medium for storytelling, inspired majorly from working-class communities in India; by picking ordinary components from their lifestyles, uniforms, street style, homes and then converting them into wearable art using textures and illustrations.”

The clothes have the disposition of Mumbai – rugged surface textures and threaded human faces trying to co-exist harmoniously on the fabric canvas – and the attitude of a garment that would look exponentially chic on the runways of Milan. So you see a pair of trousers with fabric strips sewn on it paired with a jacket that has self-portraits of Zuber ji masterfully embroidered on the back. “I have personally been fascinated by self-portraits executed by various artists. For this piece, I asked Zuber ji to think like an artist and create a self-portrait on a jacket. I collected various fabric scraps and materials and dumped them into a bag next to him. After that I left him unattended to do this work. Ten days later, he presented me with an outcome that is not just a garment but also a museum-worthy piece of art. He used a single picture of himself holding a needle and translated the same image repeatedly in different ways. In this piece, he used almost every embroidery stitch that he is aware of and poured every ounce of his creativity. We call this piece ‘Le Zuber’.” Melwani’s garment-making process is a fascinating one – one that needs vision and excellent skills. To show us how she envisions these distinctive separates, Melwani took us to her workshop for a hands-on experience.

First, we layer a sheet of woven plastic, clear polythene and tracing poly paper against each other and tie them to an embroidery frame.

Then, I draw multiple patterns and illustrations of humans and stories that co-exist in the fashion industry on the tracing paper. Zuber ji uses a technique known as thread marking (‘outting’ in his terms), wherein he traces over the drawing with a black thread.

We then cut and slash through the layers and create some depth in the textile. Following this step, we connect each pattern together using a wire mesh that is also hand embroidered by him.

There is no machine involved at any given step in this process. It took us 13 days and over 150 hours to create this unconventionally magnificent, ‘kachara’ garment piece.

The Indian fashion industry is at a crossroads right now. We are moving towards the future as well as negating all the ideals of “perfectionism” that existed in the past. Doh Tak Keh is on the right side of that change. Bridged between imaginative street style and exclusivity, Doh Tak Keh is high fashion, high-concept and unusual. Driven by a revolutionary sense of independence, it aims to liberate luxury fashion from vanity; to encircle an ‘un-glamourous’ version of beauty and to challenge some fashion-related norms. By adopting a noisy aesthetic of androgyny and ‘un-prettiness’, the label presents a concept that is radical, unconventional and perceptive.” concludes Melwani.

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