A visit to the tailoring shops of Mohan Singh Place, originally built for Partition refugees, reveals they are still catering to the sartorial needs of a large number of loyal patrons

Back in the days when a pair of imported jeans — Levi Strauss, Lee, Wranglers, etc. — was a prized possession, with peers envying the lucky wearer of a pair, the have-nots, unable to afford it or petition a relative to get it for them, made good with the denims stitched by tailors at Mohan Singh Place (MSP), situated right next to Rivoli cinema. Times have changed, with imported brands hugging the slim hips of mannequins at malls and shops across the National Capital Region. But that doesn’t mean the tailoring and draping outfits in the ramshackle building have laid down their tools. The shopkeepers agree that the pavement hawkers selling readymades do cause a dent in the business, but they are also confident that “customers particular about the size, style and comfort,” still patronise them.

Built in 1969 by the New Delhi Municipal Council, the 127 shops of MSP were originally constructed to accommodate Partition refugees who had been running their shops from individual structures on Irwin Road (now known as Baba Kharak Singh Marg). Today more than 50 per cent of the occupants are tailors and drapers, while the remainder are engaged in businesses like tour and travel, money exchange, printing, trading, eateries, etc. The shopkeepers pay a monthly licence fee or rent, which is revised by 10 per cent annually. Naresh Verma, president of MSP Traders Association, started his shop in 1972 and boasts of customers, including Rajnath Singh, president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, and Alok Verma, Special City Commissioner (Administration), Delhi Police. In fact his clientele includes 60 per cent women, and trousers, shirts, coats, suits and jeans are stitched for both sexes. Admitting it is difficult to meet the exacting standards of the ladies he says that once satisfied they revisit and inform their friends and relatives too.

Diwan’s Exclusive was allotted to Himanshu Diwan’s grandfather, who hailed from Multan, in 1971. At present he pays Rs.1050 towards rent. Specialising in suits, trousers, shirts and denims (for both sexes) and safaris, the shop now serves third generation customers. Mukesh Sharma, an old client, says he has been coming for the past 50 years, saying the first garment he got stitched was a school uniform. His wedding suit and other clothes for him and family members were also sewn here. “Their sincerity, commitment, adhering to specifications and punctuality, has made them not only my favourite but also of my son who resides in the U.S.,” says Mukesh.

AMS Enterprises, established in 1984, specialises in business and wedding suits though other garments too are stitched. Three photographs of Raj Babbar (Congress Lok Sabha candidate from Ghaizabad) are proudly displayed and when asked, its proprietor Manoj says they have been stitching Babbar’s pants, shirts, kurta, pyjamas and Jawahar jackets since 2002. He adds, “We sew the clothes for the Ambassador of Gabon, officials of the Swedish embassy, apart from corporate uniforms for Radisson Hotel, Noida and Park Hotel.” He provides catalogues and downloads designs from the internet for customers.

Cotton, tericots , woollen, linen, etc. of popular brands — Raymonds, Digjam, S. Kumar, Siyaram, Reid & Taylor, Grasim, Gwalior — are available in all the shops but it is Arvind which rules the roost in the denim segment. Jeans in indigo, blue, light blue, black, and other colours are accessible, and a pair can cost between Rs.650 and 1200 depending on fabric, size and style. Fading effects like monkey, enzyme and chemical wash can be requested for a higher price. The stitching charges range from Rs.250 to 400 for shirts, Rs.350 to 600 for trousers, Rs.3,000 to 6,000 for suits and Rs.750 to 1000 for Jawahar jackets.

There are those that have defied the dictates of fickle fashion too. Take Randhir Singh of Amar Tailors, whose grandfather from Lahore was provided a shop in 1969. He has stuck to stitching without ever diversifying in fabrics. Attending to the tailoring needs of his loyal clients, he also undertakes bulk orders from corporate clients. Randhir is steadfast about not handing over the business to his son, saying, “Though the earnings are good, there is no timing, and one is unable to devote time to family — which is of prime importance.”

Not all the entrepreneurs here have inherited the business from their forefathers. Mukesh Kumar, a civil engineer, started in 1989, dealing in denims and jeans only. By 1996 he included other fabrics too. “Ninety-five per cent of my clientele are foreigners who give preference to quality, on-time delivery and customer dealing,” says Mukesh, whose father came from Gujranwala and used to run a restaurant. A number of diplomats, predominantly from African countries, are his customers. Pradeep Rai Baweja, who sold shoes, later handicrafts, moved to travel, and turned in 1992 to tailoring.

With its unkempt stairs and dusty railings, Mohan Singh Place may look like a shambles. But business, just like the traffic outside, carries on apace.