x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Family cut out to be kings of the kandura

Indian father's determination got him to the Emirates on his third try. He learnt to sew, then began a dynasty in kandura designs.

Mohideen Liyakath in his Kuwaiti Street shop, one of five Mohideen tailor outlets in Ras Al Khaimah City. Jeff Topping / The National
Mohideen Liyakath in his Kuwaiti Street shop, one of five Mohideen tailor outlets in Ras Al Khaimah City. Jeff Topping / The National

RAS AL KHAIMAH // If not for one tailor's perseverance, men celebrating National Day in Ras Al Khaimah might not be so well turned out.

In 1971, after seven days at sea on a ship full of onions, Sultan Mohideen was not a little dismayed to discover that he lacked the proper papers to stay in Fujairah.

After a week of sleeping on sacks of the pungent vegetable, he returned to Mumbai.

"Oh, too much smell," says his son Mohideen Liyakath after hearing his father's tale. "How did he come? God protect him."

A few months later Sultan tried again. He paid 300 rupees for a place on a passenger ship from Goa to Dubai.

This time, the ship did not even reach land. It was turned back at sea when military tensions flared between India and Pakistan.

In 1973, Sultan set sail a third time and arrived in Dubai with a tourist visa and US$10 in his pocket.

Today, the Liyakath family are the kandura kings of Ras Al Khaimah. They are the leaders of National Day fashion.

"It's freedom," says Mohideen. "We celebrate for the Union. It is like the same as my motherland."

Their decades of kandura expertise are essential for National Day, when competition is fierce among the Kuwaiti Street market tailors.

"The last 10 years people have been modernising," says Mohideen. "They've come to an electronic world. They want fashion."

Last season this meant the faroukha, the braided tassel that hangs from the centre of the kandura's collar, came in national colours.

For this year, the Liyakath family have offered a range of kanduras trimmed with ribbons and embroidery in national colours. Pockets and gutras have the silhouettes of the seven founding sheikhs.

While the farouqa can only attach to the top button of a collarless Emirati kandura, this year's style can accessorise all types of kanduras, such as the shirt-collar Qatari or the single-button Kuwaiti.

The garments are expected to be popular at National Day school assemblies, office parties and weddings.

"The people have a creative spirit," says Mohideen.

He says people spend much less on clothes for December 2 than on religious occasions, but it is a growing market.

National Day fashion began with simple flag-style thobe dresses for young girls. It soon became an industry of its own and new ideas are copied immediately.

"It builds, year by year," says Mohideen. "Every year is different, actually. The market is very tough but if we can create something, new customers will find our showroom."

This year's signature piece is a 2.5 metre farouqa tassel made with 450 spools of thread, a total of 164 kilometres of string.

Mohideen credits his father with his determination.

When Sultan finally landed in the UAE, he travelled to Al Ain to visit relatives. He stayed, learnt to sew and saved until 1975 when he opened Sultan Tailoring. A second branch opened on Kuwaiti Street in 1983.

His son and grandchildren still live nearby.

"He thought the future would have brightness," says Mohideen. "My family, my home, all settled here."

Mohideen took over the business in 1986 after he mastered sewing. "My father said that 'you go from bottom to top'." The business now has 10 branches and 70 tailors from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and the Philippines who can sew 300 kanduras a day.

The garment that was so simple and unchanged for so long is now made in a range of colours and styles popularised by the sheikhs.

"The millennium changed the colours," says Mohideen. "Our colours are like the choice of paints. We have the same booklet."

Mohideen says a good tailor will always be in demand.

"Only the fashion changes. Style is the same."

azacharias@thenational.ae