Indian designer swaps needle and thread for buttons to create fashionable outfits

Anuj Sharma's company offers stylish yet sustainable dresses, shoes, bags and even rakhis, without a stitch in sight

Button Masala outfits are made without cutting or sewing and are held together with buttons and rubber bands. Photo: Button Masala
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Scrolling through Button Masala’s Instagram page is like falling down an eccentric fashion hole. The designs leap out at you, each delivering a dose of subtle beauty with an individuality you begin to recognise as the label's trademark.

Take, for instance, a white khadi dress that comes with the disclaimer that it's “not meant for noisy places”. Or a striking neon yellow fabric fashioned from electrical wire waste. Or men’s fitted armour that invites you to share your views on the “lack of experimentation” in menswear in Indian fashion.

If you're looking for a predictable platform filled with excessively sumptuous images and audaciously maintained grids, you'll be disappointed. This is all about Indian designer Anuj Sharma’s wardrobe of wonders full of quirks, personality and eye-catching aesthetics.

And it is this finely honed fashion sense that sets Button Masala apart, as a label that uses no needles, no thread, no stitching, sewing or cutting – just buttons, rubber bands and fabric.

It’s what one of the brand’s 27,000 followers calls “pure fashion magic”.

Sharma, whose first collection in 2007 was made up of repurposed second-hand shirts, found that the idea of stitched garments held little appeal for him. He started showcasing his subsequent collections – all made without a single stitch – at Lakme Fashion Week.

On the button

Button Masala was originally the name of one of Sharma's final collections. “I put a button on a piece of fabric, made straps and just hung it on a dress form, and that’s how the collection came by,” he explains.

As for how the humble button became such an important part of his oeuvre, he reveals: “I was trying to save time by putting two buttons inside the fabric and tying them together with a rubber band, and then realised I could remove the buttonhole altogether.”

A Button Masala outfit uses anywhere between three and 3,000 buttons, and can take anywhere from 10 minutes to a couple of days to make.

Apart from clothes, Sharma says the architectural possibilities of his method are staggering – he’s made shoes, bags, carpets, lampshades, headgear, jewellery, wearable tents, wigs and rakhis.

Measuring the drapes

Buttons and bands aside, Sharma’s preferred silhouette is flowy, easy-to-wear garments, rather than body-hugging patterns that restrict movement.

While his avant-garde system is a way to challenge the norms of cutting and stitching, he also believes our behaviour process itself comes from clothing. And drapes, he finds, work beautifully for the body.

“Clothing is one of the closest layers we have. Nothing else literally touches us so much. I am challenging the idea of not just stitched clothes, but also very fitted clothes,” he says.

The other problem with stitching, he finds, is the amount of waste it creates, unlike draped clothes that tend to use the whole fabric. Button Masala’s outfits can be easily resized, recycled or upcycled, making waste a non-issue.

When Sharma started out, sustainability was not his core focus. Instead, he says, he was just trying to make his life easier. "I believe that design should serve ourselves first, and then it can serve the world.” But along the way, challenging the norms of fast fashion was something his brand became focused on.

To help people buy less, he believes he needs to show a better way, which brings him to his other true love: teaching.

A stitch in time

Unlike many designers who carefully guard their trade secrets, Sharma loves nothing better than seeing others master his technique. And if the number of students and craftspeople creating outfits using his method – often just hours after learning it – is anything to go by, they seem to be just as enamoured by the process.

“We tend to think we will look beautiful by buying one garment after another. But it can never be as satisfying as making your own clothes. So my idea is to teach people that they can design their clothes, be happier about it and buy less,” says Sharma, who has travelled to more than 25 countries and trained about 50,000 people.

Despite his success and a comparison to the late pioneering Japanese designer Issey Miyake, Sharma hasn't found mainstream success yet. However, he says he prefers to let his designs do the talking.

“Button Masala is quietly growing and it’s only going to evolve further from here, like an underground movement. I'm just waiting and playing along.”

Updated: August 11, 2023, 5:04 AM