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     Volume 5 Issue 117 | October 20, 2006 |

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Special Feature

A Tailor-made Story
Going to the tailor is a sort of ritual during Eid.

Are you cut out to be all smiles this Eid, or are there tears of extreme disappointment? Anger and alterations, or feeling good when it fits just right, this time of year, he (more often than she) will determine to a great extent how you will look, and, in turn, how you will feel, on “the day”. So this Eid, here’s a tribute to the man who gets so little appreciation (especially throughout the rest of the year). To your hero -- or villain -- this season . . .

“I told you to make it 0.25 inches longer!”
“Where’s the lace? You forgot to add the lace???”
“This is the wrong shade of deep olive green!”
“You made my daughter’s and my own neckline the same height??!”

“I said BEADS! Not SEQUINS!!!”
“You’ve ruined my 4,000-taka dress material!!!”
And so continue the accusations of customers whose tailors just can’t seem to get it right . . .

But this Eid, we decided to talk to the people on the other side of the counter. On rickshaw and auto-rickshaw, motorbike and car, SWM’s Kajalie Shehreen Islam and photographer Zahedul I. Khan made a tour of Dhaka’s largest tailoring neighbourhoods. From Kalabagan, Dhanmondi and Mouchak to Gawsia, Chadni Chawk and New Market, we bring you the trade that has been around ever since human beings stopped covering themselves with leaves!

Our first stop -- so many people’s childhood tailors: Kalabagan. Piara Tailors at Lake Supermarket in Kalabagan has been in business, albeit falling, for over 15 years. Md. Abul Hossain, its proprietor, has been tailoring since the Liberation War. “I used to have a shop in Dhanmondi then,” he says, “but they were all demolished during Ershad’s rule, and then I moved here.”

Women tailors are unique to Mouchak Market.

When Hossain first rented the shop, it was for Tk. 750 per month. Now the rent is Tk. 3,000, he says. “Rent has gone up, prices have gone up, but income has not,” he says. Hossain has five people working for him, in this season, from 9 in the morning to 10:30 at night. “We don’t have too much work all year,” he says. “We hardly take any orders with special designs because I can’t pay my workers. Complex designs take a lot of time,” says Hossain, “and we can’t afford it.”

“This year it’s even worse,” he continues. “There is no electricity for four to five hours every day. We can’t deliver orders on the promised dates so we lose customers. Electricity will be the death of us.”

“We have to work late into the night to make up for the lost time,” complains Md. Selim of Sathi Tailors of the same market. Selim, who has been tailoring for 18 years, does the cutting, but has five employees to do the stitching. Normally, they work from 9:30 in the morning to 9 at night, but during Eid the hours go from 8 in the morning to midnight. “We make double during Eid,” he says, “but we also spend double, with the workers’ bonuses and everything else.”

MMA Qadri, one of the three brothers who own the most bustling tailoring shop in the market, Mehboob Alam Ladies’ Tailors, does the math. “Recently,” he calculates, “we have been paying Tk. 9,000 only for octane for the generator.”

There are no new and exciting fashions this Eid, claim Dhaka's tailors.

Mehboob Alam Ladies Tailors was established by the Late Mehboob Alam during the Pakistan era, when it was located in New Market. It later moved to Dhanmondi, and finally, 20 years ago, to Kalabagan. Alam’s three sons, Maqsud Alam, MMA Qadri and Shah Alam now own three tailoring shops in the market. They have 14 workers who do everything from stitching shalwar kameezes and sari blouses to embroidery, hajarbuti, karchupi, etc.

“Usually, we get double the business during Eid,” says Qadri, “but this year, business has been slow, and Eid has been like the rest of any other normal year.”

The only new or “in” designs this season are the “shirt collars” or wider “Babli collars” (re: Rani Mukherjee in Bollywood's Bunty our Babli) on shalwar kameezes, say tailors at Kalabagan. Rates here range between Tk. 120 and Tk. 150 for shalwar kameezes and Tk. 80 and Tk. 120 for sari blouses, with prices going up only 10 or 20 taka during the Eid season.

For those who have to go through seemingly never-ending traffic every day in Dhanmondi, a neighbourhood tailor always helps.

The tailoring business is slow this Eid compared to previous years.

“But we get customers from all over the city, from as far as Uttara,” says Md. Abul Quddus of Oronima Tailors, which has been in business since 1993. “We get the same amount of business throughout the year,” says Quddus. “We actually work better after Eid.” Quddus has six employees. “I myself do only the work of very old customers, who have been coming to me for 20 years,” he says. Oronima, according to its proprietor, is frequented by stars such as actress Suborna Mustafa and Mithu.

Md. Yaqub has been tailoring since 1977, but set up Sotarupa Tailors in Dhanmondi around five years ago. “We used to get a lot more business then,” he says. “There used to be only two tailoring shops in the area; now there are seven or eight.” Rates are similar to those at Kalabagan, going up just Tk. 10 during Eid.

Yaqub has four employees who now work until midnight. “There is no electricity for seven to eight hours a day,” says Yaqub. “We hardly get any orders, only from very old customers. Before, we used to take orders for embroidery until the fifteenth day of Ramadan; this year, we stopped on the first day.”

“Prices have soared,” continues Yaqub. “Hook buttons that used to cost Tk. 4, for example, now cost Tk 20 .”

Business usually doubles during Eid, says Lablu, proprietor of Ajanta Tailors at Gawsia Market, but this year it’s not as busy because of the high prices.

Ajanta has been in Gawsia for eight years. “Up until two or three years ago, we made a 40 percent profit,” says Lablu. “Now we make only 10 percent.” Rent, for example, has gone up from Tk. 2,200 to Tk. 4,000. And with the rise in income during Eid comes a corresponding rise in expenditure, says Lablu.

Tailors Shahjalal and Sajid of Anjana Fashions in Gawsia also agree that business is relatively slow this year. Still, it’s double compared to the rest of the year and five master tailors and six karigors work until 1 AM in this festive season. Load-shedding of three to four hours daily is a major hindrance, though, agree all the shopkeepers in the market.

The same goes for Chadni Chawk, says Abdur Rahim, a master tailor at Moyuri Tailors. “We request our customers to give only the orders they cannot do without,” he says.

Abdur Rahim has been tailoring for some 13 years, six of them at Moyuri. “Only very experienced tailors get a chance to work at our shop,” he says proudly. “We make all kinds of women’s apparel, from sari blouses and shalwar kameezes to burkhas and aprons. Our rates (Tk. 150 for shalwar kameezes, Tk. 100 for blouses with lining and Tk. 80 for cotton blouses) have not changed in the last five to seven years,” says Rahim. Another experienced tailor, Badal, has been in the trade for 30 years, 20 of them at Metro Master Tailors in New Market.

“Business used to double during Eid,” says Badal, “but it hasn’t in the last seven or eight years. Probably because people don’t want to come through all the traffic,” he reflects. Still, eight employees work 14-hour days now, instead of the regular 10. “But we often have to work in the dark because there is no power for at least five hours a day,” says Badal. This slows down production, everything from ironing, which is essential from the first step, to delivery is delayed because of this, he says.

Gulbagh Tailors was set up at New Market 26 years ago. Business, however, has fallen, says one of its owners, Solaiman, probably due to the price spiral. Abdul Mannan, one of the master tailors, says, “Because of the power crisis and the high prices, we hardly get any orders anymore. Before, we used to work nights from the first day of Ramadan. Now, even during Eid we work regular hours like we do the rest of the year.”

Subesha Tailors, also in New Market, is 40 years old. Master tailor Nasir, however, has only been here a year, though he has been tailoring for 25 years. “I worked in Saudi Arabia for 11 years,” he says. “I came home three years ago as my health was deteriorating.”

“If business was good, I wouldn’t have time to be standing here talking to you!” quips Nasir. “It used to be good during Ershad’s time,” he says. “Who knows why? Maybe because people don’t have as much money anymore. Expenses are greater than income,” he observes. “Don’t even talk about electricity! There is no electricity for four to five hours daily. Cutting, ironing, everything is at a standstill. The factory is practically closed.”

Some tailors who don't have their own shops take home orders.

Possibly doing the best business in the city are the tailors at Mouchak Market. Md. Zakir Hossain has been tailoring for 27 years, the last seven at Three-Star Tailors. “Business has doubled during Eid,” he says, and he and his five employees work from 9 in the morning until sehri, or just before dawn. His regular rates, of Tk. 150 to Tk. 250 for shalwar kameezes and Tk. 90 for blouses go up some 30 taka during the Eid season. In addition to the rent, electricity bill and other expenses, this year, due to the power crisis, the generator -- Tk. 140 for two lights and Tk. 120 for a fan per month -- is an additional cost.

“Neither is there electricity at the factory in Malibagh where the sewing is done,” says Delwar Hossain, a tailor in the same market, “and nor is there power here, where the cutting is done, for four to five hours per day on average.” “Today there was no power for nine or 10 hours,” says Abdul Quddus, master tailor at Shilamoni Tailors. age.” “Today there was no power for nine or 10 hours,” says Abdul Quddus, master tailor at Shilamoni Tailors.

Probably unique to Mouchak Market are its women tailors. Many women customers feel uncomfortable with male tailors taking their measurements; some even refuse and instead give sample measurements of previously stitched outfits. At Mouchak, however, women tailors take precise measurements, sometimes in separate trial rooms instead of out in the open, and are thus able to make better-fitting clothes.

Joba has been working at Shilamoni Tailors for eight years. “I didn’t know anything when I started,” she says. “I learnt everything here.” Joba got married before she could give her SSC examination and couldn’t continue her education. She had a child, and had nothing to do all day at home, so someone suggested she do tailoring. Now she spends most of her time working at Shilamoni while her mother looks after her son.

Some tailors in the city, who do not have their own shops, also take and make home deliveries.

Abul Khair has been tailoring since the age of 18. He used to have a store in Gawsia Market in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but gave it up to go first to Oman and then to the UK. That did not work out, however, and now, while trying yet again to go to the USA, Khair takes orders from homes of previous customers in Gulshan, Banani, Farm Gate, Elephant Road and other places in the city. His base, however, is in Noakhali, and it is from there that he comes, sometimes once in two weeks, at others, as in this season, two or three times in one week. The six-hour bus rides to and from Noakhali and Dhaka cost some 300 taka each time. But Khair’s rates are still reasonable, with cotton and silk shalwar kameezes and sari blouses costing Tk. 130, Tk. 150, Tk. 60 and Tk. 80-110 respectively.

Such enthusiasm is, however, rare in the tailoring trade in this year of high prices and low power. With nothing new in the form of designs, slow business -- with what little there is, taking place in the dark and heat of a rather warm October -- Dhaka’s tailors have little to be excited about this Eid. We can only hope that things start to look up for these men (and some women) with measuring tapes around their necks, chalk and scissors in hand, who, given the opportunity, are all ready to dress you up in all the latest fashions.



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