Tailor made

Dharavi is not only the destination for those from the countryside seeking the economics of the big city. Mumbai citizens indeed are also seeking shelter after eviction from other locations in the name of redevelopment. Slum areas are demolished to make place for high-rise. Those who lived there are either relocated in transition camps and find new homes in the high-rise, or cannot stay as their livelihood does not allow them to. Many entrepreneurs need a business on street level. Vending only works well on the ground.

The tailor’s shop is about 7 feet wide and 4 feet deep.

The demand for retail space in Dharavi is enormous. A shop of only 4 feet deep, or even less, is therefore already worth exploiting. Vending often begins on a cloth on the street, backed by a blind wall in an alley. A little stall is a step forward. A built shop is the logical follow up.

The tailor’s shop on the left, beginning street vendors on the right.

On top of the shop a floor was created for a room. By extending this floor over the street, more room is created inside. The extra floor doubles as a weather shade, protecting the shop against sun and rain. The shop’s counter can be moved outside, leaving more space inside the shop. Business is perfectly tuned with the spatial dimensions of the shop. No stock is kept here, production is located elsewhere.

In the shop, client’s orders are taken and delivered. All agreements regarding the design are collected in the order book. All sizes of the customers can be found here. Samples mark the chosen fabric. When a customer arrives to collect the order, a staff member walks to the studio to fetch the gown.

Production takes place in the studio on top of the shop. Thus the distance between production and retail is kept very short and efficient. The alley is in close proximity to one of the busiest streets in Dharavi, which is good for patronage.

The shop and the studio are built to a blind wall. That wall is part of a bigger house dating from times this was still a normal fishermen’s village. This story of building to and building upon is typical for the architecture of informal development and slum areas. The forces of society are clearly visible. The owner of the house was willing (or had to be) to allow trading next to his property. The width of the original alley allowed for a stall of only 4 feet. The stall was improved to a built shop. On top of that came a studio, jutting out over the street. Thus the entrepreneur found shelter for his business.

The story of this tailor’s shop is the story of many entrepreneurs in a slum. This is also the story behind the many narrow alleys in slums. Just imagine the tailor’s shop and his studio were not here. We would be standing in a very ordinary street in a very ordinary village.