The Tailors of Kotwali Bazaar

When I first came to live in Dharamsala 38 years ago, one didn’t buy ready-made clothes. We purchased fabric and gave the garment to sew to a tailor. I spent some time looking for a good tailor; there was Fighting Needles, who was best reputed for making salwar kameez or chowridars, First Tailor, Best Tailor, English Tailor and many more. They all were quite set in their ways and their style, none of which really worked for me, Kalsang or our children. Then I heard about Claypot, introduced by an English friend. He had a tiny store on the road that led up to the District Commissioner’s residence, more like a shack, that he occupied with his father, who crouched on one side smoking a hookah, while he sat opposite him cross legged with his brother, their antiquated German made sewing machines purring before them. I was told the buttonhole making and button sewing was all done at home by the various wives and children of his extended family. His store had no name, but the back was stacked from floor to ceiling with clay pots of all sizes, the kind used to store water, which he also sold, earning him the name “Claypot”. It turned out Claypot’s talent was to copy anything you gave him, to perfection. We started with Sochoe and Dechen’s school uniforms, then my shirts and skirts, and Kalsang’s pants. I began to get creative with shapes and fabrics, which I usually purchased in Delhi or Varanasi.

When my mother came, which at one point was twice a year, she carried half a suitcase of fabrics and buttons to give Claypot to sew. My mother was set in her ways, and liked to wear the same models in different fabrics. Being from the generation that had their clothes made by ‘couturieres’ rather than ‘pret a porter’ she delighted in good tailors. Her favorite was Ascot Chang in Hong Kong, but Claypot came next and he must have made at least 20 versions of her favorite YSL shirt with shoulder straps, in demilitarized Saint Laurent style. In the early 90’s, when Tibetans began to emigrate to the US, they also discovered Claypot and he became almost out of reach, so busy he was making clothes that they resold in their new country.  One would think he would expand his business and prosper, and perhaps he did, but fifteen years later, his shop looked the same, minus his father, who had passed away. Our children grew up and no longer needed uniforms, and my mother stopped coming, so I only saw him fleetingly passing in the car.  A few years ago, he moved into a bigger store, with a higher ceiling and a few days ago, I came by to say hello, introduce a friend and take a few pictures.

Sochoe and Dechen being measured by Claypot, 1983
Claypot in his workroom, 1999, taken by Dechen 
Claypot with his brother, today, in their new workroom. They use the same German sewing machine, which Claypot says, are irreplaceable. 
The new workroom definitely has a higher ceiling and more shelve space 
Other tailor shops in Kotwali Bazaar, today