On a bright Wednesday morning, Shabana Khan interjects two women and asks them to delete pictures of a vibrant clothing collection they had just taken at the Seerat Clothing Label in Shahpur Jat, where she works as a sales assistant.
“In Shahpur Jat, every clothing store has exclusive collections. Therefore, we don’t allow customers to take pictures. There’s risk of copying the pattern,” says Shabana.
Shabana is working at Seerat Clothing Label for three years now. Earlier, she was working at another designer boutique in Shahpur Jat which shut down in the pandemic.
Shahpur Jat is one of over 350 villages of Delhi which have been urbanised in recent past. The market here is dotted with boutique designer studios, small clothing factories, independent embroiders and dyers.
Shahpur Jat is fast becoming one of the Capital’s most fashionable addresses with noted fashion designers exploring avenues here.
Shabana adds, “There are clients coming to our shop from as far as Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and even the United States of America. Shoppers from Delhi do come to shop but our major clients hail from other parts of the country and overseas. They come in groups of about 5-6 people and explore the entire market. Most of the clients have an idea of the outfit in their minds. The price range of the designer garments starts from Rs 10,000 and goes up to Rs 2 lakh. Honestly, Delhi residents have never bought an outfit worth Rs 2 lakh here.”
Sandwiched between two of south Delhi’s most upmarket areas, Asian Games Village and Hauz Khas, Shahpur Jat is trying to compete with the trendy architecture of its neighbours.
“OPS Art Gallery is my home. I established this gallery three years ago as an extension of our family business. My father migrated to Delhi from Mathura (Uttar Pradesh) in search of better work opportunities. He did odd jobs but his passion was always in this field of photo framing. He set up Om Prakash Art Frames in Shahpur Jat in the 1990s. Today, we are serving many interior designers across Delhi. As an extension, I decided to open an art gallery sourcing tribal art,” says Rishi Sharma, who owns the area’s only art gallery.
Located in a narrow lane, OPS Art Gallery is expecting a rise in sales.
“Shoppers, who explore the area, stop by to take a look at the art. Some buy and others place customised orders. It will take some time but I am very hopeful,” asserts the 26-year-old, who also teaches graphic art in the gallery.
Sharma says the entry of fashion designers has made a difference to the area.
“I, as a resident of Shahpur Jat, feel there’s been a big role of the fashion designers in raising the village’s profile. We never expected film shooting in these narrow streets. Last year, actress Sonakshi Sinha shot a scene of her upcoming film. Then we have had Akshay Kumar coming to promote a film here as well. It feels surreal to see them coming here and walking down the lanes,” says Sharma pointing to the famous Dada Jungi Lane, which is a premium, pedestrian-only retail alley.
Having spent his childhood in the area, Sharma shares nostalgically, “There was just one lane in Shahpur Jat which we identified as fashion hub and that’s Dada Jungi Lane. The designers set up the stores there and back in time, outsiders weren’t allowed. It is a gated alley even today and vehicles aren’t allowed.
“My parents say the designers might not have imagined that this place will become a hub of shopping for people and consequently a business centre. But they had a vision of looking at Shahpur Jat as an emerging market or a place that deserved development. Since the designers set foot here, the infrastructure has developed.”
A Community-Driven Urban Village
Shahpur Jat is different from the other organised markets in Delhi. Here, residents dominate. Along with the dominant Jat community, it also comprises others such as Christians, Sikhs and Muslims. The close-knit community owns most buildings and the landlords offer a portion of their family-owned property for commercial purpose.
Rakesh Chauhan, 60, is a resident of Shahpur Jat who believes that the credit of the growth of the space goes to the permanent residents and the fashion designers who settled here.
According to him, the success is solely due to the understanding between landlords and tenants.
Chauhan says, “During the pandemic, several designer studios shut down but we as landlords tried our best to support them in hard times. We didn’t take rent for about 6-7 months and even today the rent is reasonable. We haven’t increased the rent because we understand that if we are to grow then the only possible way is to grow together. If we increase the rent, then they would have to put burden on customers by increasing the prices of their products. We are naturally afraid of losing the footfall. Therefore, our support is important for the designers.”
People who come to Shahpur Jat for shopping mostly know these designers. They are either following them on social media or have seen them walking the ramp. The designers first organise shoots with the models and put pictures on social media. That’s how they receive clients in Shahpur Jat.
Aditi Sharma, a fashion designer in the locality says, “I started my store in 2018 here. While Shahpur Jat is restructuring every day, it has been able to retain the charm of a village. The landlords are extremely supportive. When I decided to set up my own store, I wanted to connect with people of not just Delhi but NCR too. Shahpur Jat has good connectivity with Noida and Gurugram. The rent is budget-friendly and the most striking feature here is that you can find big brands in a serpentine street.”
Fashion designer Karan Torani feels that the place is heaven for independent professionals and small-scale businesses.
“When I started out, the rental increased drastically owing to the footfall. But it is not too much for those who have a small or medium-scale business. You would see small factories, dry cleaners and dyers operating in these galis (lanes). Moreover, the condition of the roads has improved a lot. Three-four years ago, the lanes were crammed and during the rainy season it would become worse with water-logging. But today the situation has improved and it just keeps improving day by day.”
As one stops at the auto stand in Shahpur Jat, which also marks the entry point into the lanes, the first thing that gives an impression of evolution is the dream catchers strung to the cable wires. There are sign-boards and placards introducing brands, events, shops.
Rajat Kaushik, one of the members of RWA in Shahpur Jat, explains, “Humare gaon mai aaj bahot vikas ho raha hai (There’s huge development taking place in our village). Earlier, if there were any problems it would take really long for the authorities to take action. Today, we are surprised that even before we can raise our voice, the authorities (MCD) take action. They are well-informed unlike earlier when we had to organise panchayats and take the matter to the ministers. I think it is because this place has become important. The cleanliness, road structure, water supply and all has to be taken care of especially because there’s commerce here. People from different parts of the country and world come here. So obviously, nothing can be taken lightly.”
Kaushik also highlights how the designers’ community has helped the residents in adopting change and eventually modernism.
“We organised an event at the MCD parks wherein the villagers walked the ramp. The designers helped our daughters and daughters-in-law to dress up in the most fashionable outfits and walk the ramp. It was a collaborative step. We had a lot of fun and everyone enjoyed participating in the show. Saurabh Bharadwaj, MLA of the area has done fabulous work and we are happy residents.”
Parveen Nigam, who runs a roadside stall selling snacks and beverages, says, “I studied in a government school of this area. Today, there’s a swimming pool. Earlier, water supply was a major issue but now there’s no problem as the MLA of the area visits us frequently. We get water supply at least two times a day.”