Wedding season, festival season and the resumption of bigger, in-person events have triggered a resurgence in the dry cleaning industry. Valencia Fernandes, Sub Editor, Clean India Journal spoke to four dry cleaners to understand their challenges and how they negotiate them, their relationships with customers and why the latter will never really know what they do for their cherished garments.
A mystery to designers
When designers choose a fabric to create their signature outfits, do they ever consider how that fabric will need to be cleaned after being worn by their customer? Are they aware about the nuances of garment aftercare, or do they simply attach a ‘dry cleaning only’ tag to a very expensive lehenga and saddle dry cleaners with the responsibility of figuring out how to clean it without damaging it?
The dry cleaners of North India are in no doubt about their answers to these questions. Neither do most designers consider the durability and longevity of the fabrics they use, nor do they know how it must be carefully, delicately and almost scientifically processed after each wear. That task is left to the dry cleaners, who have to scramble to safeguard clothes that can cost lakhs of rupees.
Nowadays, garments are being designed for one-time wear only. How long an outfit will last is not given much importance. However, few customers are willing to abandon an expensive garment after a single use; the responsibility of figuring out how to preserve something that was never meant to last becomes the dry cleaner’s headache.
Whenever a garment reaches the dry cleaner, there is already some sort of problem with it: soiled, damaged or full of dust and grime. Delicate beads or specially embroidered buttons make the process of dry cleaning very challenging, since some of these embellishments may get damaged, wear off, fall off or fade due to the chemicals used in the cleaning process. Some fabrics are so delicate that they will not withstand the pressures of a machine wash, nor will they endure the chemical treatment used for standard cleaning processes.
According to Dalbir Singh of Quick Drycleaners, “Designer garments are copied by non-branded manufacturers and sold to customers at a lesser price. They compromise on quality and material by using paste instead of stitches to attach stones, beds etc. The quality of cloth and colour fastness are also compromised to reduce production cost. Such garments create problems when they come to dry cleaners”.
No 100% guarantees
Most dry cleaners believe in the thumb rule of never promising to deliver a 100% cleaned garment, nor do they take the total risk upon themselves. There’s always the chance of some minor mishaps that could take place while cleaning the outfit. Minor damage such as the beads and fixtures on the garment falling off, or the various lining or layers bleeding colour, is always a possibility.
As most Indian designer wear consists of multi-coloured ensembles that are put together with a lot of linings and layers, no one is quite certain from where the colour bleeds. Hence, there is never a total commitment on the part of the dry cleaner that the garment will be returned with its full shine and original texture.
Mukesh Garg, Managing Director, Band Box Drycleaners said: “We speak to the customer directly. Dry cleaning or thorough cleaning will happen but there is a limit to what we can do with designer garments. Most of our customers are not only affluent but also very intelligent, and understand our limitations”.
More care = more cost
If the garment is a creation of a highly esteemed designer or the value of the garment is enormous, the dry cleaner gives a rough but appropriate costing for the cleaning process. For example, if the garment costs ₹ 2,00,000, the dry cleaner may charge a fee ranging from ₹5,000 to even ₹10,000. After all, the more valuable the garment, the more care would be given to the cleaning process, and hence the high cost.
Arun Gandhi, Partner, Laxmi Dyers and Dry Cleaners said: “In terms of costing, the sky’s the limit for designer clothes. Customers value these garments and are willing to pay a good amount to ensure that their garment is handled with a lot of care and concern.”
Dry cleaners’ suggestions
Indian designers can greatly help the longevity of their masterpieces if they follow a few recommendations. They should process their fabrics before the garment is put together to check if the fabric will shrink. It will also help if they check whether the fabrics they use bleed or not.
In an ideal scenario, the designers themselves will provide specifications about the cleaning procedures that dry cleaners need to follow for a particular garment.
Sanjeev Pahwa, Director, Choice Dry Cleaners said: “Designers will not tell the client about how the garment will respond to dry cleaning. When the garment is created, all they do is insert a ‘dry clean only’ tag. To make things worse, many dry cleaners across India do not have the right equipment; they still rely on dhobis.”
Great efforts are taken to retain the originality and intricacy of the garment; this is usually at the expense of the dry cleaner. Clients may never fully comprehend the lengths to which a dry cleaner goes to ensure that the garment remains in good condition. But only a seasoned dry cleaner will know how much he has to do to ensure that the customer’s smile remains the same as it was on the day they purchased their designer masterpiece.