When one hears the term “Doh Tak Keh” it can often serve as a reminder of the slang prevalent in remote areas of India. In Hindi, the phrase refers to “2-paise” – a term often used by Juhi Melwani’s mother to describe her sense of dress. As the founder and creator of this synonymous Indian streetwear brand, Juhi is changing the street style scene in India.
Doh Tak Keh is completely made in India, high standard, low pollution and experimental with patterns. The brand strikes a perfect balance between imaginative street style and exclusivity. Think avant-garde and quirky millennial prints designed to create high-end silhouettes. Before, we talked to Juhi about his label creation, creative processes, first collection, memorabilia, highlights and more.
ELLE: Tell us a little more about the creation of Doh Tak Keh. How did it start?
Juhi Melwani (JM): In February 2017, while visiting my hometown (Mumbai) for vacation, I had the opportunity to design a collection for a parade involving textile artisans and weavers from Kutch (Gujarat). The show’s program was to showcase handmade Indian textiles fused into contemporary fashion. It made me realize the immense skill that India has to offer and led me to leave New York fashion commercialism and directly engage in Indian art and talent. Back in Mumbai in 2017, I started a photo blog titled ‘Know Your Darjee‘, a platform that brings recognition to each individual who contributes to the creation of a garment by telling their story, their emotions and the functioning of the fashion industry.
Keeping a similar concept in mind, I created my personal clothing brand, ‘Doh Tak Keh’, which aimed to spark conversations about sustainability through my work of art. I started on an artistic note and wanted to reinvent the idea of avant-garde fashion in India. Eventually, I developed a ready-to-wear line and started selling through social media, a website, pop-ups, and exhibitions.
ELLE: How was your first collection? What was the inspiration behind this?
JM: ‘Sola Maala’ showcased at India Fashion Week A / W 2019 is Doh Tak Keh’s debut collection showcasing various fabricated stories, conveyed through hand-embroidered textures and artwork inspired primarily by the lives of working class communities in India. The concept of focal design was to choose ordinary components in lifestyle, uniforms, street style, homes and convert them into wearable art using traditional craftsmanship expertise and applying them with a non-traditional approach. conventional. Waste media such as plastic wrappers, bottles, wrappers and leftover production textiles have been handled in application techniques on various hand-woven 100% cotton fabrics (sourced directly from Indian artisans) . While the theme is quirky and unconfined, the colors were visually chosen from the streets of Mumbai – industrial and earthy with pops of faded cool undertones.
ELLE: What prompted you to design streetwear at a base like India?
JM: Indian handicrafts are mainly showcased in ethnic or bridal clothing. It is unfavorable to associate this with street fashion. At Doh Tak Keh, we aim to fill this gap in the market where we create products with high quality skill, add a touch of Indian art and achieve a “ cool ” and versatile result. There are fun facts and stories behind every piece of clothing. What is truly unique about us is the way we apply traditional Indian skills in our designs with a major twist or edge. Our textures and silhouettes are mainly inspired by the “BTS” of fashion – the skilled artisans, their homes, factories, villages and clothes. Thus, we try to convey our fashion journey through our clothes, which we keep in each collection. The upcycling and the deconstruction of the silhouettes are also our strong point. I think a saturated market like India deserves young brands that experiment with contemporary streetwear fashion while representing the country with its core values and craftsmanship. This thought process is above all our greatest driving force.
ELLE: When designing a collection, what does your creative process generally look like?
JM: As a designer, I have always embraced the diversity of traditional Indian textiles and love to explore clusters of artisans across state borders. From the start of my textile pilgrimage, I collected inspirational memories and simultaneously created a moodboard in transit. From a Karnataka-based weaver dressed in gorgeous Banarasi silk, from the wacky interiors of a 60-year-old weaver’s house in Kanchipuram to the police or the text of a train ticket in West Bengal – I would find the beauty in every detail and translate those mental images into clothes.
I would then spend hours with my hand embroiderer (Zuberji), who thought through each design with me from scratch. I show him my inspiring travel photos, do quick graphic sketches and doodle notes as he brings his embroidery ideas to the table. Together we collect all kinds of materials – glass beads, raffia threads, textile waste and even single-use plastic products – items classified as Kachara (waste). We collect anything that catches our eye, and then drop it in a basket next to it, after which it begins to create magic. The ‘magic’ consists of hours of carefully curated techniques such as quilting, hand application, block printing, deconstruction, and fabric illustrations.
After experimenting with embroidery designs, I start to illustrate silhouettes and other graphic details from the collection. My team and I collaboratively design the collection and apply “trial and error” at every step without any creative hesitation. At Doh Tak Keh, we give our karigars the freedom to co-design and explore their expertise, which ultimately results in creations that have never been made or seen before.
ELLE: What were the difficulties and challenges you had to face in creating your own label?
JM: As a fashion entrepreneur, I tend to see myself juggling textile sourcing, initiating payments, creating sketches, creating models, generating sales, meeting clients, networking with potential retailers, accounting, invoicing, managing Instagram stories, preparing look-books and more. Sometimes it’s a tedious multitasking process. I think it’s important to realize that you can’t be good at everything and there is nothing wrong with delegating. Trying to focus on my strengths and excel in these areas has been extremely difficult.
Another problem with running an experimental brand in India is serving the Indian audience with comparable products. I face so many obstacles to infiltrate my aesthetic into the minds of consumers here. I really enjoy coming up with ready-made designs, but at the same time I get comments like “Oh, but can I do it?”, “I love this, but this is too much for my taste ”.
ELLE: Who is Doh Tak Keh’s ideal client?
JM: Most of my clothes are flowy and versatile. My designs mainly attract personalities who like to experiment with their style and believe in creating ethical causes through consumption. Our ideal client is someone who buys less, but of good quality, owns items that have longevity, is culturally diverse, and is a collector of handmade items. They steer clear of vanity and do not abuse high end luxury, strive for an eco-friendly lifestyle by minimizing waste and avoiding single use plastic items . They follow lasting pages and are probably regular Instagram story updates of cool things they find.
ELLE: What has been the highlight of your journey with the label so far? What are the best memories you remember from your trip?
JM: At the end of 2018, after completing my first collection, I was very confused about the launch of the brand. Of course, like any other designer, I wanted it to be larger than life. But as a starting label it’s hard to fund the same. So I applied to various platforms, programs, fashion weeks looking for a decent lead. To my surprise, I was chosen by FDCI to present at India Fashion Week A / W19, fully sponsored by them. It was a big milestone for a brand that wasn’t even on Instagram at the time. It definitely strengthened my spirit and confidence in the brand.
Another big episode of my trip was the lockdown period. I experienced a whirlwind of emotions when I had to stop my operations for a brief period. When things picked up in September 2020, I only had 28 days to create a collection because I had to meet an international show deadline. Thanks to the lockdown, I was ready with a blueprint and sketchbook for the collection. But the execution phase was underway. My team and I worked overnight; we leaned into junk food, wore our creative dresses and went all out on this collection. We felt like we were on the sets of a fashion reality TV show and gave our 100%. This was by far my happiest challenge of the trip.
Photographs: Courtesy of Juhi Melwani, Instagram (Doh Tak Keh)