An undiluted appreciation for Indian craftsman is visible in every piece of Doh Tak Keh’s rich spectrum of textures, techniques, and colours.
One scroll down the label’s Instagram feed and you will be enamoured by the precise detailing with which they bridge the gap between street style and high fashion. Think deconstructed shirt skirts, belted tops and trousers featuring dense patchwork, denim jackets with embroideries resembling art, and a range of seasonless shirts.
Over the past year, Juhi Melwani has adopted the noisy aesthetic of androgyny and ‘un-pretty’. Details of her embroideries, stitching, and dyeing are rather visible, making everything imperfect a part of her Gen-Z design narrative.
For her, igniting conversations about sustainability via design was an impetus behind launching her label Doh Tak Keh in 2019. The slang (Doh Tak Keh translates to 2 paise) is mostly used by her mother to describe Melwani’s dressing sense sums the irony (in the name) and essence of her label, which is to transform conventionally cheap-looking materials into luxury products.
Melwani, a Parsons graduate in design, started working at Oscar de la Renta’s atelier in 2015. But soon a visit home to Mumbai allowed her to collaborate with a group textile Artisans/weavers of Kutch (Gujarat) for a runway show. Having been exposed to an intensive database of handcrafts prompted Melwani to revisit the idea of upcycling. Today she collects discarded fabric waste from all over India and collaborates with NGOs such as Vidyasagar, Chennai that specialize in novelty textiles.
However, that’s not all her Spring/Summer 2020 collection featured pieces created using grain sacks, discarded shirts, khadi dresses, and tailored separates. Veering away from the season cycles of fashion, Melwani believes in creating one collection a year and operates with a closely-knit team comprising of a patternmaker (Intazaar materji), Tailor (Ramzan ji), and hand embroiderer (Zuber ji) at her Mumbai atelier.
Melwani gives a complete lowdown on her journey so far, and how fashion might look like post COVID-19.
On her brand’s ethos
What’s really unique about us is the way we apply traditional Indian skills into our designs with a major twist. Also, our textures and silhouettes are majorly inspired by “behind the scenes” of fashion i.e skilled artisans, their homes, factories, villages, clothing etc. We try to convey our journey in fashion through our garments.
On her muse
Most of my garments are gender fluid and versatile, and my designs mostly attract personalities who love to experiment with their style and believe in creating ethical causes via consumption.
On her creative process
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. We gather all sorts of materials – glass beads, raffia threads, textile waste, and even single-use plastic products – things that are categorized waste.
Later we employ techniques such as patchwork, hand appliqué, block print, deconstruction, and illustrations on handloom cotton fabric, which is sourced from artisans/weavers across various states of India – Jaipur, Bengal, Karnataka, and Gujarat. Besides this, we also work with our signature fabric “Mitti”, an unfinished form on Khadi that has blobs of random prints dispersed throughout the fabric.
On her favourite hero piece/pieces
I have personally been fascinated by self-portraits executed by various artists. For this piece, I asked Zuber ji (our hand embroiderer) 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’.
Pieces for Millenials
Our ‘Le Zuber’ jacket, upcycled trousers, and deconstructed skirt. Millennials are always looking for Instagram worthy outfits, and I feel that these garments serve the purpose of #OOTD with a quirky twist. These pieces bring a bold statement with them and can be easily mixed and matched with a casual T-shirt or a pair of jeans.
On post COVID-19 fashion
One constant debate that is catching up revolves around multiple seasons /excessive production of garments in a given year. On a personal note, I have never been comfortable to design for a particular season or shuffle more than 2 collections in a year. I prefer to design 1 collection a year and produce the same over that year.
I feel many brands will pursue a similar approach and be more environmentally conscious in their practices. I also think this will drastically affect the global consumption pattern and consumers may no more indulge relentlessly in fashion products. I am hopeful that every genre of fashion will make certain changes in their process cycle, which is in favour of the betterment of the world.