Dubai: COVID-19 hit many businesses hard globally and Link Tailors, a men’s tailoring shop in Meena Bazaar, was no different. The story behind the small two-storey shop in Bur Dubai, however, is the story of a big family for whom UAE has been home for more than 45 years.
Wilson Kollamparampil landed on the coast of Dubai by ship in the early 1970s after a few years of tailoring experience in Mumbai, India. At the time, in 1974, he was offered a job in a tailoring shop in Dubai by an acquaintance. Soon after, his brother Sasi Kollamparampil joined him.
“I flew here, on a visit visa, for a job with my brother,” Sasi, 67, added from behind his work desk where rolls of textiles were spread out ready for cutting. He also, like his brother, worked in Mumbai before heading to the UAE.
In 1981, saving up the additional income coming in from their wives’ jobs and other savings, the brothers decided to open up their own shop, leasing two adjacent store spaces.
Bringing the rest of the family
“We had so much business, we were one of the first in this area,” Sasi reminisced.
The brothers also brought over extended family and helped them find jobs and start new lives here. A couple of decades later, a ‘family get together’ in the UAE led by the brothers would have over 45 members.
The shop focuses on men’s suits and organisation uniforms including those of hospitals, hotels, stables and other businesses. Sasi said, “Even then [when we started] we only did men’s tailoring, we didn’t know anything about women’s tailoring so never ventured for it.”
However, rosy days for their business started to diminish over the past decade. The duo had to shift their shop premises to make way for new construction and competition started catching up.
Rugmini Wilson (67) and KK Wilson (74) in Dubai: Wilson is now in Kerala and bedridden. Rugmini had been working in the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) for 20 years, before leaving for Kerala with her husband. Image Credit: Supplied
K K Sasi (67) and Suma (61): Suma is working in an accounting firm in Dubai while Sasi runs Link Tailors Image Credit: Supplied
Son-in-law Anil Ambatt (50) took over operational reins a couple of years ago. A pharmacist by profession, Ambatt and his wife were never in to the family business but decided to get in after Wilson had to leave Dubai. 40 years since starting the shop, Wilson who is now 74, is bedridden and back in their hometown of Kerala.
Everything looked good for a while. Ambatt was able to secure uniform contracts from small and medium firms in the hospitality industry and for healthcare. Before anything could come to fruition, however, COVID-19 hit and the contracts disappeared as the hospitality industry had major economic impact.
Two years later, Ambatt said, now things are slowly but steadily looking better. His wife, Wilson’s eldest daughter, also lost her job amid the pandemic, so she will also chip in for the business side of things.
“The ideal level of business is having both the shop spaces running actively,” Ambatt said. They have two adjacent shop spaces, one of which is locked up and has no operations.
For now, the business is just in one two-story shop space: a shop front on the lower floor with tailored custom men’s suits and textile rolls, while 7 tailors constantly sew away on the top floor.
“Almost all of them [the tailors] have been with us since the start…,” Ambatt added.
Several uniforms hang up next to the tailors – hospital scrubs feature mainly, and so do palace stable boy uniforms. Ambatt said,” We have had some of these contracts since the very beginning.”
Sasi, one of the founding brothers, hasn’t thought of returning home. “We haven’t terminated our lease on the flat [where Wilson and his family lived],” Sasi said, and an unspoken word of hope passes that Wilson might return to a thriving business, just as it was all those years ago.