Feature Story

Dream weavers

Paragon pant by original Hindi banner, held by the kind footwear shopkeeper | Maharashtra, India
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First landing in India, this little town was my first home. Ashish, my friend from the Chai shop was teaching me Hindi by reading the signs around and so I became proud of cracking the decorated script to the point I literally wanted to wear it on my sleeve. What seemed to be a no brainer – finding a t-shirt printed with the native language, proved to be mission impossible. Only Hindi T-shirt can't be bought in shops. Those are only printed as uniform (such as for wedding marching band members, local cricket teams, etc...), handed out on election campaigns by political parties and brand/product promotional gifts.

After combing market street, following shopkeeper tips to no avail I finally understood that custom order is the only avenue.

But where will I even find anything printed in Hindi that can be used as raw material for a garment?

I kept my eyes open as I roamed around town and one morning they fell on the Paragon footwear banner stretched in front of a market stall. I stepped into the shop behind and with my practically non-existent spoken Hindi of the time but facial expressions and hand gestures tried to convey my odd wish. The seller kept his calm despite that odd customer being me, went back into the storage room behind the shop, came back carrying a ball of bunched up fabric. As I threw it open those flying colors and Hindi fonts jumped to sight.

'How much?' I asked him

'Nothing' he "sign languaged" me. My heart grew wide, with many happy returns to come, of the extra mile Indian do for you and for no compensation. A couple of weeks later when I had a chance to give back I bought here a pair of chappals (Indian flip-flops) for my Yoga teacher, who also refused taking pay and here's the story about my experience with that great man, Mr. Chavan: http://jpgmag.com/photos/3307767

My next step was the tailor by the Chai shop. Ajai, with his easy nature despite the many orders that flew in to his little shop. Luckily we could converse will minimal but essential English. The task was no short of a 'haute couture' project.

I brought a fishermen pant as a sample for size and pattern, then we discussed how to cut out a the various parts keeping the fonts and colored print streaming.

The result was a one-of-a-kind pant. Today, after 2 years worth of backpacking India, I know it was also an out-of-space outfit around such rural traditional town.

'It's good to walk in them' was printed in Hindi along one leg with a pointing hand that eventually came to rest crotch-level.

The price: 60 Rupees ($1.5 of the day)

That pant literally didn't keep it's word and after a few laundry cycles was eroded and bleached out. The heavy and coarse cloth was also not very suitable to the tropical heat and not to the string bounded nature of the fishermen pant concept (it sometimes slid open...)

But the memory of that first project was a vivid, cross cultural experience that would drive me to many more attempts to bring to life future ideas.

However... Like most things in Indian traditional rural towns and villages foreign *current* trends (cuisine, fashion etc...) are hardly present and so less understood. I found that the hard way, leaving out what seemed obvious to me, my missing directions turned out to be random surprises when I got the ready garment handed to me.

Another note: In touristic destinations fabric used are non traditional (e.g not women saree material nor mens checkered shirt textile nor lungi weaved cotton neither the pant synthetic cloth). I guess it works for the customer crowd that comes and goes, not there to experience the dyes washing out and fading quickly with each laundry.

In remote location where foreigners aren't the clients raw quality is what you'd expect. But then language is more of a barrier... can't win them all although communication can be learned where as a given stock of cheap selection can't be taught new tricks.

दरजी, टेलर, शिंपी, தையற்காரர்

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—The JPG team

1 response

  • Frances DeMartino

    Frances DeMartino (Deleted) gave props (31 Aug 2013):

    This former sign lady really enjoyed this one. Sorry the fabric wasn't more comfy!

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