x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Lobo tailor tells rags to riches tale

Homeless, jobless teen who arrived in Dubai in 1968 now runs a tailor business, with Imran Khan and Emirates Airline among its clients.

Coming from a poor, large family in Pune, Mr Shaikh worked even while going to school when he was a child.
Coming from a poor, large family in Pune, Mr Shaikh worked even while going to school when he was a child.

DUBAI // Mushtaq Shaikh slept on footpaths, rummaged for food and begged for work when he came to Dubai from India as a teenager in 1968.

It is difficult to see remnants of that desperate youth in the man who proudly runs a tailor shop in Bur Dubai that has the former cricket stars Ian Botham, Vivian Richards, Imran Khan and Andrew Flintoff as regular customers. Emirates Airline and Al Tayer Motors are among his corporate clients.

It is a remarkable success story, but memories of the tough times are still there.

"They were hard days," Mr Shaikh says. "I knew no one in the emirate. I used to sit outside Kader Hotel, a well-known place during those days, asking people for a job.

"I even cried when luck did not smile on me. It was very tough."

Coming from a poor, large family in Pune, Mr Shaikh worked even while going to school when he was a child.

"Getting a day's meal was difficult," he says. "Being the eldest in the family, I had to share a lot of responsibility and start earning at an early age. We had a big family of seven brothers and three sisters."

One of his neighbours in India gave him the idea about moving to Dubai. After reading a newspaper article, the neighbour told him of how people were going to the emirate in wooden dhows and earning money.

Mr Shaikh hopped on to a boat that launched from Balsar in Gujarat, and landed at Dubai Creek on a hot day in April 1968.

He had only a set of clothes and 300 rupees (which would be equal to Dh19 at today's exchange rate) in his pocket. The money was given to him by his mother, who had sold her wedding necklace to a pawnbroker.

Before leaving, he told his mother to forget him if she did not hear from him in the next three months.

"Sea journey was risky during those days," Mr Shaikh says. "Smuggling of goods was rampant and there was no security. I was not sure whether I would make it to Dubai."

When he arrived in the UAE, he slept on the streets and sometimes inside a dhow.

His fortunes finally changed two months after he arrived, when a man took pity on him and offered him a job and shelter at the construction site of the road from Dubai to Ras Al Khaimah.

"I used to wake up at 3am to go to the site," Mr Shaikh says. "There were no roads during those days and it used to take hours to [get there]. I did not mind doing the hard work, as I was happy that I found a job to earn money and support my family."

He was soon promoted from an assistant storekeeper to storekeeper at the site, thanks to his English skills.

But while he was working at the construction company, and then for the Dubai Government's public works and central purchasing departments, Mr Shaikh noticed a lack of quality tailors in the city.

In 1978, with some tailors from Mumbai, he rented a shop and started the business. Lobo Tailors soon became a landmark, a sought-after place for customers and corporate clients.

Today, the company has 100 employees at its factory in Garhoud. The shop in Bur Dubai is one of the oldest stores in the emirate, and also boasts diplomats and wealthy sheikhs among its clientele.

"There were only a few people when it started," Mr Shaikh says. "Now, I have more than 100 people working in the factory in Garhoud. God has been kind to me in giving success."

Christopher Decker, an American management consultant and long-time customer of Mr Shaikh, says: "I get all my suits done at Lobo Tailors. He does amazing work.

"My family is fond of him. Mr Shaikh is a wonderful person."