What NRIs need to know about the desi stitch to denim



Mumbai-based guru of indigo, Diksha Khanna, has elevated the status of denim and made it superlative, experimental, and interesting. An alumni of NIFT, Delhi, and School of Textiles and Design, University of Leeds, UK, she loves distressed denim saris, which is now a GenZ favourite. “The Indian sari always hits home! These six yards of sheer elegance and beauty are extremely close to my heart; therefore, the range planning process of every new collection starts with conceptualizing a sari in my studio. One can bond with a denim sari if only they knew how to manage draping it. That’s where we step in,” she says.

With many successful collections to her credit, she wanted to reimagine denim with new surface techniques such as quilting, ombre patchworks, hand distress of the sari pallu as seen in the collection titled ‘Urban Utopia’ (autumn-winter 2017), or fusing with crochet to create an interesting patchwork, in ‘Hadith’ collection, and the insertion of zari for a classic modern touch.

Most people view denim as coarse. But, it’s really supple and resilient. Diksha made many attempts to redesign a denim sari that could be comfortably draped. For this, she introduced her signature hand distress technique, where a small patch in the top layer of the fabric is distressed. “The biggest challenge here was to maintain the same hand pressure to save and not tear the second layer yarns. It took more than 250 man-hours to complete the process following which the sari underwent several hand washes and quality checks before achieving the desired fall,” says Disha. This won her a legion of followers like the red-carpet maven, Sonam Kapoor.

Luxury has always been about specialness, and Diksha believes she has seen a persistent shift. She wants denim to not only be perceived as a comfort garment, but also an extension of one’s personality forming a thought-provoking expression. “Echoing the same principle, our signature aesthetic combines timeless trans-seasonal classics with an understated avant-garde-ness. It is a philosophy of crafting pieces that are not only ahead of their time, but also deeply rooted in tradition and craftsmanship – like a collection of many smaller ideologies with their unique synergy,” she says.

The brand’s bestsellers include denim pants, loved for their weight, fall and feel of the fabric. She amps them up with interesting elements of patchwork, godet and yarn insertions, or reverse panel detailing.


The designer who can be credited to adding denim to the omnipresent lehengas is couturier Varun Bahl, who believes it has always been a huge part of the fashion industry, but rarely used in couture since it’s considered somewhat ‘casual.’ The key to including it in his couture pieces has been to create silhouettes focussed on denim, rather than incorporating it in the already existing pieces. “The fabric we use goes through a lot of treatment to create a yarn that gives a smoother feel. I first experimented with denim in my SS’22 couture collection titled ‘Quintessential’. From denim dresses, embellished with sequins and ruffles to adding a distressed denim jacket to an embellished couture lehenga,” says Bahl. The denim fabric that Bahl works with is made using organic cotton and produced using only recycled water. “At the moment, we use only blue denims in our couture collection. We employ the process of surface ornamentation as well as utilise upcycled fabrics and materials that result in added glamour and different textures to the final piece,” he says, adding that denim can enter the luxury category, like a denim skirt paired with an embellished blouse, as would a denim jacket with a fully embroidered lehenga.

Varun Bahl’s denim skirts, jackets and lehengas as well as his signature upcycled patchwork jackets that are paired with denim jeans are quite popular.


Aaina Mahajan, co-founder of the label Mellowdrama, has always loved the possibilities denim offers, as she has utilized innovative weaving techniques and different washes – from vintage fades to bold bleaching effects. Integrating Tencel fabrics derived from wood pulp is the brand’s strategy to enhance breathability, especially in warmer weather. It comes with moisture-wicking properties for a luxurious feel, while being durable so you can wear it round the year. Surface creations, like handcrafted embellishments, are visually appealing.

“Being conscious about our impact and working out ways of sustainability, we look at the product life cycle. 99% of the water we use in the creation journey is recycled at our plants and reused. Our innovations extend to minimize fabric waste through careful pattern-making and design. Fabrics are sourced from registered mills actively involved in processes that aid water conservation and energy efficiency; they run on carbon-neutral electricity powered by biomass,” says Aaina.

Denim doesn’t need to be blue. Embellishments like sequins, embroidery, and metallic accents can always be added. “We’ve also explored a range of colours beyond traditional blue, including lilac, green, black and even metallic finishes to elevate denim’s aesthetic appeal,” she explains adding that some of the best-selling styles include denim weave vest, frayed denim jogger sets, and distressed denim cord set. These pieces feature unique fabric developed in-house.


Kriti Tula, founder of the upcycled and recycled brand Doodlage, has also ingeniously worked with denim, by blending its age-old charm with contemporary styles by utilising recycled denim. This approach not only honours its timeless appeal, but also introduces a modern twist by focusing on sustainability, and eco-friendliness. “By incorporating recycled cotton blends, and recycled polyester into denim, we’ve managed to enhance its softness without compromising on durability. Our commitment to innovation is evident through our use of upcycled post-production waste. We creatively cut and assemble pieces to craft unique, environmentally friendly denim products that stand out for their design and sustainability,” explains Kriti.

Doodlage adds detailed embroidery to the classic blue denim. The brand ensures denim retains its authentic charm while becoming a statement piece. Doodlage’s best-selling items are dresses, crafted from factory waste that undergoes a meticulous process of cleaning, fixing, patching, panelling, embroidering, and printing (with some kept as solid

On the high street brands like Coach’s latest “Find Your Courage” campaign explores how denim has evolved over time, through two characters virtually created –Imma learns from Wu Jinyan about the courage to embrace change, set in a virtual universe, designed by Creative Director Stuart Vevers for the New York based brand. For the recently concluded Lakme Fashion Week 2024 X FDCI, Anamika Khanna’s brand AK-OK paid tribute – in her distinct way – to the Bonda tribe, living in the hills of Odisha’s Malkangiri district. But what really stood out was her tattered denim, some with holes, and the interesting play of crafting the trend of the season – a pant suit in denim, along with oversized tunics. And she too, like Varun Bahl, gave us the ubiquitous lehengas with asymmetry. – editor@nrifocus.com




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