Since 1969, Delhi’s Been Getting Their Custom Denim Stitched By This Family

Since 1969, Delhi’s Been Getting Their Custom Denim Stitched By This Family
Kirti Narain

Twenty-seven-year-old Siddhant is dressed, from head to toe, in an attire custom-made at his family’s shop in central Delhi’s Mohan Singh Place. A glimpse of a tattoo peeking out from underneath his sleeve, Siddhanth goes about work at his shop, ceremoniously called ‘Just Jeans’. He says he hasn’t stopped working since 2015 when he officially joined his father’s three-decade-old business. In many ways, Siddhant represents the newer generation that is carrying the legacy of Mohan Singh Place forward.

Built in 1969, the shops were allotted to partition-era refugees, though many have sold their shops and moved on. The 50-year-old building at one time was the only answer for when a mall and Levi’s showroom weren’t available at every corner in the city. When Siddhant’s father Shyam, now 57, started his shop in 1987, there was a steady demand for denim. But with the economy opening up four years later and the pouring in of MTV-driven aesthetics, jeans became all the rage.

Those styles are coming back now, says Rajesh, 50, who manages ‘Satkar Jeans’, one of the oldest and most popular shops in Mohan Singh Place. The most in-demand cuts lately, especially among college girls, have been high-waist ‘mom jeans’, and of course, boot cuts and bell bottoms are back with a vengeance, he says. On an average, one can get jeans stitched for anywhere between Rs 900 to Rs 1,200. The cost varies depending on how much cloth is required, but a metre of basic denim comes to Rs 400. Rajesh, who has been in the business for 28 years now, remembers the time when one could get a single pair of jeans stitched for just Rs 150. But the prices are still more affordable than any branded showroom, and the jeans are tailor-made to fit perfectly. Besides, there are a host of counterfeit designer labels to pick from which the tailors willingly stitch at the back of the jeans.

Photographed by Kirti Narain

More than ‘Just Jeans’

Today, shops at Mohan Singh Place have diversified to include a lot more than jeans. One can buy cloth from a range of linen to flannel, for shirts, formal trousers and even suit material. “The only thing you won’t get here is a sherwani. Maybe we can pull that off too if the customer gives us a few days,” says an employee at A-TEENS Fashions, a shop as old as Mohan Singh Place, who was too shy to reveal his name.

If not a sherwani, however, most of the market prides itself on being able to stitch and deliver a pair of jeans within an hour. Customers are known to bring photographs of styles or cuts they want to be copied and the tailors try their best to replicate it.

Fifty-year-old Shiv Narain and his family have been patrons of the market since he moved to Connaught Place in 1982. Back then, he remembers getting an extra pocket stitched inside all of his trousers. Today, both his daughters, Kirti, 21, and Apoorva, 18, periodically take a laundry list of demands to the tailors at Mohan Singh Place. From distressed, ripped, high-waist, low rise, customised with patchwork, the tailors have obliged every requirement of the sisters.

Photographed by Kirti Narain

Dealing with Competition

The last few years have been tough on the jeans makers. With a plethora of affordable options available online and elsewhere, it’s not every day that the shopkeepers bag a new client. “Bahaar jo patri par readymade jeans bechte hai, unse business affect hua hai. Par jo puraane wafaadar hai, woh toh yehi waapis aate hai (the hawkers who sell readymade jeans outside have affected business, but the old customers always come back here),” says Deepak, who runs his late father’s 50-year-old shop, ‘Bright Jeans’.

Siddhant recalls recently selling a pair of jeans to an old customer of his father’s, who at 80, had decided he wanted to wear jeans again. All these years later, Mohan Singh Place was all he knew and trusted.

Photographed by Kirti Narain

What the shop owners do struggle with is labour. Other than the tailors they’ve been working with for years, Siddhant says it’s hard to find new karigars in the city. “No tailor wants his son to become a tailor now,” he says matter-of-factly. Rajesh, who joined ‘Satkar Jeans’ as a salesman and graduated to doing everything short of the actual stitching of the jeans, concedes. His 24-year-old son sat for the IAS this year. “He’s a bright boy, I have nothing to be worried about,” he says confidently, not edgy at all about the outcome of his son’s exam. Having devoted years to Mohan Singh Place, work for Rajesh now is to spend some hours of leisure in the afternoon, sharing tea and gossip with his colleagues and friends. “Yeh kaam kaha, yeh toh time pass hai (this is not work, this is time pass),” he says jovially.

Photographed by Kirti Narain

Sandwiched between PVR Rivoli and the Hanuman temple, Mohan Singh Place is a Delhi landmark that has stood the test of time, even as its neighbours like Regal Cinemas have had to pull their shutters down. In a city increasingly obsessed with pomp and designer labels, Mohan Singh Place has for long been a destination for both designer names and pocket-friendly prices. But being a patron of the iconic market is about more than finding jeans that fit like a dream. Every customer, new and old, is a thread in Delhi’s fabric which nurtures the city’s inheritance, one denim at a time. There’s a reason a great pair of denim is a must, and it’s been around since 1969.

Photographed by Kirti Narain

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