New Delhi: While a pair of jeans is a ubiquitous pair of clothing today, this was not always the case. For far too long, denim pants were only accessible to those who lived in cities and the upper classes.
But this changed when ‘Ruf & Tuf’ jeans entered the market in the 1990s. Armed with an advertisement featuring the ‘khiladi’ of the time, Akshay Kumar, these jeans were, for many, their first branded pair.
Kumar’s advertisement, in true ‘action hero’ form where he beats up goons, was extremely popular and made the jeans synonymous with ‘cool’.
“All I recall, at that time, Akshay Kumar was the popular image in public memory associated with strength and ruggedness. So as a kid, when he endorsed a brand named similarly, it seemed like validation of a product which will make me feel like him,” Vivek Bhattacharya, a government employee, tells ThePrint.
Bhattacharya remembers buying a pair in 1997 at the height of the brand’s popularity.
What Bhavneet Singh Arora, an assistant professor at Bennett University, remembers best about the jeans is the fit; for a tall, lean kid like him, it was perfect.
A brand as old as India’s swadeshi movement
The legacy of the Ruf & Tuf jeans can be traced to the Swadeshi movement.
The Lalbhai family founded Arvind Mills in 1931, in response to Mahatma Gandhi’s call for swadeshi. They set up the first tie and dye and chemical plant in 1952 to reduce India’s dependence on imported dyes and chemicals.
But it was denim that made the company an international force to be reckoned with.
In the 1980s, Arvind Mills was threatened with extinction because of low-cost power mills.
Lalbhai decided to take a gamble and started producing denim — a fabric whose raw material, cotton, was plentiful in India but the market was entirely overseas. His gamble paid off and in less than a decade, Arvind Mills was one of the leading global suppliers of denim, providing raw material for brands like Levi Strauss & Co and Lee Apparels.
With the economy opening up and satellite television introducing western culture, the 1990s was a ripe time to introduce indigenous jeans in the country. In 1995, the Ruf & Tuf jeans were introduced that helped denim make inroads into the Indian fashion industry.
Anticipating competition from tailored clothes, Arvind Mills decided to sell the jeans as ‘ready-to-stitch’ instead of ‘readymade’.
They were sold as a kit — two legs, buttons, rivets, zipper, leather label and an instruction booklet for the neighbourhood tailor.
Ruf & Tuf were the first pair of jeans to penetrate the semi-urban and rural markets. Small towners now had a chance to wear a pair that many in the ‘big cities’ wore.
Mental health advocate Varalika Mishra talks about feeling ‘cool’ after wearing a pair of Ruf & Tuf jeans.
Similarly, 27-year-old Isha Kapadia, a teacher from Dumka, talks about how it was available even in a small town like hers.
But despite its success story in revolutionising jeans in India, Ruf & Tuf was pulled by Arvind Mills in 2001, due to high excise, MODVAT and other duties, and relaunched in 2004.
The relaunch, however, failed to re-create the magic of the 1990s.
In 2019, the company decided to launch Ruf & Tuf yet again, but through digital platforms only. The company’s digital-only approach also extends to its efforts to spread the word about the brand and its offering.