And sew it began
On Sewing Machine Day, we say hello to some of the city's oldest tailoring stores to find what keeps them ticking in a world where readymade is king
Sewing Machine Day celebrates the day English inventor Thomas Saint received the first patent for his machine design in 1790. So, when I enter Danns: The Bridal Shoppe in Crawford Market expecting to see Ruth Lopes near a machine, she hands me an old cut-out of a mid-day article. I assume it's one that mentions her store, but it is a piece about sewing classes for women in Ghansoli. "I was hoping I could send them little baskets with material so that they can keep themselves busy," she says.
What's in a name?
The septuagenarian has been running the bridal shop in the bustling area for 46 years. But the space has been around for over 80 years. Her father-in-law, Joseph Anthony, ran a gents tailoring shop. It was still called Dann's and Lopes didn't change it. "What's in a name?" she asks. Prior to helming the store, Lopes was a secretary to Russi Karanjia at the iconic magazine, Blitz. "I was interested in sewing since childhood. I would teach children after I came home from work. Then I joined Sheroo Cooper who ran a tailoring academy, and I learnt a lot from her," she says.
Over the years, Lopes has had an impressive clientele — she's catered for Alyque Padamsee's plays, Dharma Productions and even made a floor-length gown for singer Anushka Manchanda that lit up on stage with visuals. Wedding shoppers flock to Crawford Market that is dotted with bridal stores. Lopes says, "We are facing competition from the Chinese market since other shops sell readymade dresses. But they don't cater to women on the heavier side. Once I had a woman come to me who was so worried about her dress. Once she received it, she told me, 'Ma'am, I cried when I got my garment. I didn't know it would be that beautiful.' So, I want to be here till I can."
The sons of sewing
Francis Dias with his father, SS Dias' sewing machine. PIC/ PRADEEP DHIVAR
Take a walk down Hill Road and it's easy to spot the gilded SS Dias & Sons' signboard in a retro font, that reads, "Since 1930". And Francis Mark Dias, 71, doesn't recall the exact month that marks their 90th anniversary. But that's understandable as he's been helping out at the store ever since he got out of school. "We used to stitch uniforms for Jet Airways, British Airways, and Gulf Air. Sachin Tendulkar, Mohammed Rafi and Suresh Prabhu have also dropped by," Dias says. The rising inflation and GST might have affected his business but he still maintains that the store has a loyal customer base. He adds, "We have a huge trial room that can accommodate three people. It actually makes you feel like trying on clothes unlike the cramped spaces in Bandra. And punctuality is essential in this business, which we deliver on."
Labour of love
When he was five, Maksood Sarwar started working at Domnic Godinho's tailoring shop on Cadell Road, Mahim. "I used to get four annas to sweep the floor and over the years started learning how to cut fabric," Sarwar, 51, recalls, holding a memorial card of Gondinho. It's how he ended up as the owner of Chishtiya Tailors, a neighbouring shop in Mahim, 25 years ago. "I used to work in the same space, which was also a tailoring shop called Horizon. It's probably as old as Kashinath building opposite us, around a 100 years or so. This shop is named after Khwaja Ghareeb Nawaz [Moinuddin Chishti]," he tells us. The store had to shut down briefly in 2013 as Sarwar slipped into a coma. And he's still trying to cope with the surge in retail, working at other stores in the neighbourhood. "It's a very difficult job. But Godinho told me, whatever problem life presents you with, it will be solved eventually. Whatever I am today is because of him."
A steady ride
It was all in the family for 40-year-old Himmat Zala of Zala Creations in Matunga (Central). "My father told me to complete my graduation and so I did. But he also told me that if I take up tailoring, I will never go hungry in any part of the world," Zala recalls. So, he now helms the 32-year-old store that specialises in women's wear and corset designs. He even started getting orders for costume design but didn't take it up. While all his friends have 9-to-5 jobs, Zala is happy doing his, foregoing the money he might earn if he goes commercial. "Kisi ki gulaami nahi hai," he explains, adding that although online shopping has made some difference, his business is still going strong.
A contemporary take
Bandra's experimental haberdashery store, The HAB by USHA, is a community centre for sewing, and hosts a range of workshops. "People are rediscovering how cathartic it is to learn and create on a sewing machine, and the new-age range of our machines are so easy to use that we have kids as young as six years old, come in and feel right at home," says brand manager Arwah Attari, adding that there is an equal number of boys and girls attending the workshops.
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