The UK is home to a sizeable population of the Darji, or tailor community. Most hail mainly from parts of East Africa and Gujarat, India, but there are smaller groups from all over the world.
The Darji communities have their ancestral roots in Gujarat, the state of which current Indian Premier Narendra Modi was Chief Minister of between 2001 and 2014. As with any community, there are several denominations within this community. Some originate from Surat District, others from Kathiyawar.
The Darji community prospered in the early 20’s and 30’s leading to young Darjee entrepreneurs migrating to far places and in particular to East Africa. Taking their skills with them they soon settled down and started offering tailoring services to the wider community. Within a short period the single males who had travelled alone went back to India either to get married or bring their partners and family to settle. At the same time they also maintained a close tie with families and friends back home. Darjis from both the Surat and Kathiyawar districts started making good progress in business and prospered.
Kenya was a British colony. Majority of the community members were Naturalised British citizen’s from India. This gave them future protection as British citizens. The economy of Kenya was thriving and a lot of other communities also arrived in Kenya bringing with them their skills. Surati Darjis excelled in bespoke tailoring in both male and female garments. The Wanza community already had links with businesses in India who could provide them with the necessary materials. They became the main suppliers for suiting materials and other linens required by the businesses.
Kenya was then seeking independence from the British. Jomo Kenyatta who led the Kikuyu party played a Key role in the independence movement. By early 60’s there were signs of Kenya gaining Independence. In 1963 it was declared by the British Government that Kenya would be granted its Independence and will have its own Parliament. Kenya was made independent in on 12thDecember, 1963.
Upon Kenya gaining independence the parliament brought in regulations for the non-Kenyan residence owning businesses to honour the Government criteria. This was unacceptable to a lot of Business owners. This prompted both Darji communities to move to UK and make it their home. Majority of the Darji communities from both district settled in Leicester, Luton and London. Some had left Kenya early and started settling their families and adjusting to British way of life. Elders in both Darji communities realised that in order to keep the communities together and maintain our cultural values they needed to buy premises for the members to meet and socialise. The Surati darji community in London bought their own premises and have been well established. It is estimated that there are 3,000 families from the Surati community residing in London, Luton , Leicester and other parts of UK. They also have a community centre in Leicester which has been established for over 21 years.
The Wanza community have not been able to establish a centre in London, however in Leicester the Wanza community has a thriving community centre which was opened in 1995. Many of the early settlers played key role in the establishment of the centre. The Wanza community have settled in London in 3 different areas, Wembley, in the South and East London. In London they have about 2,000 families and in Leicester there are about 1,000 families.
Both communities have made major contribution to the economy of UK by setting up garment manufacturing companies in both Leicester and London. In Leicester there were 10 factories employing over 500 people for a period of 25 years up to 2000. Navinbhai Gohil was one of the garment manufacturers in Leicester who is also past president of the Shree Wanza Community Centre The cheap imports from the Far East saw the decline of manufacturing sector in Leicester and UK. The second and third generation youngsters from the community have been educated in this country and obtained qualifications and entered into diverse professions i.e. doctor Bankers, solicitors Pharmacist etc.
Pareshbhai Kishor Odhavji Davadra from RationalFx is a fine example of how he has excelled in foreign currency market and is a well-known figure in the corporate world and is also well-respected member in the community.
Chandubhai Tailor is also a very well-known personality who set up his Funeral service business in 1993 and offers this to our members in London and afar.
Kishor Tailor from Leicester has worked in Local Government for many years in the regeneration of the Leicester City and is currently the Chief Executive of Humberside Local Enterprise Partnership with a portfolio of £300 million for regeneration work in Humberside.
Preeya Kalidas was one of the early entrant in the world of acting is a well-known actress and she is also a singer and a writer.
Dhiren Katwa is a young person who has studied and worked hard and is a freelance journalist writing articles in Asian Voice as well as in British mainstream newspapers.
Karuna Bilimoria is a professional henna artist & nail technician, who has been freelance since 2011. She specialises in providing an exclusive bespoke henna designing service for brides.
In the field of community development there are many individuals in both the communities in London and Leicester who have made great contributions. It is difficult to name them all. Similarly in the field of Business there are so many more that deserve a mention however due to editorial constraint we are unable to add all names.
Having spoken to so many people in both the communities I feel proud as a darji of the achievements of our communities and feel privileged to be asked by Asian Voice to bring the materials for this supplement together.
To capture the full picture of our community and its achievements there is an opportunity for us to come together and an aspiration to publish a 24-page booklet that would capture details of extraordinary achievements of ordinary Darji citizens, a historic souvenir for future generations.
Ishwar Tailor has been in community development and business development for over 40 years. He was instrumental in the £4 million redevelopment of Gujarat Hindu Society and obtaining a grant of £1.77 million from the Millennium Commission He was awarded an MBE by the Queen for the work in Race Relations and made Honorary Fellow of UCLAN for the redevelopment of GHS. He was made the Deputy Lieutenant of Lancashire in 2004.
Jagdish Bulsara left school at the end of 1965 and was not going for further studies, when his father asked him to join him in the tailoring shop to learn tailoring. As Jagdish was fascinated by the printing machines and the profession, he asked his father to join a local print works as apprentice. This was not agreeable to his father, so he still joined the shop but as a salesman in ready made garments.
He told Asian Voice, “I came to this country in 1968 February and a bought a small manual printing machine on which I was printing Diwali cards and went to Southall to sell to the shopkeepers.
I finally got into printing by starting as a printer in 1982, and opened the 'Jagprint' in 1984.”
In 1992 he had the opportunity to buy a trophy business from a neighbour who was forced to close down due to ill health. He developed this Trophy business and sold his print shop in 1996.
Today 'Jag's Trophies' is the largest dedicated trophy shop in North London and the only Gujarati in all of UK to own the largest retail trophy shop.
Bharti Tailor, was the first woman to be elected Secretary General of Hindu Forum of Britain, in May 2009, then re-elected in June 2012, though she resigned in November 2012. She is the first woman to be elected President of the Hindu Forum of Europe, June 2012-June 2014, and the first Hindu woman invited to join the European Council of Religious Leaders from 2011-201. Bharti is currently the VP of Religions for Peace, UK. She is also working with the core group of the Global Hindu Foundation and served as the Executive Director of Hindu Forum of Europe, and Hindu Forum of Belgium 2014-2016.
Vinod Tailor FCIB DL was officially appointed to the Office of the High Sheriff of Bedfordshire for 2017-2018 at a ceremony held at a Hindu Temple on 1 April 2017. The ceremony was attended by around 120 dignitaries, family and friends, including the Lord-Lieutenant of Bedfordshire, Helen Nellis.
The Office of the High Sheriff is an annual appointment by HM The Queen which goes back to Saxon times and Vinod takes over the role from Charles Whitbread.
The High Sheriff is the Queen's representative in Bedfordshire for all matters relating to the Judiciary and the maintenance of law and order.
The Office of High Sheriff is non-political and entirely self-funded.
As such, the 55 high sheriffs of England and Wales are able to bring people together within their counties and to support not only the Judiciary but also the enormous contributions made by the emergency services, the armed forces, local authorities, church and faith groups and the voluntary community.
Bedfordshire has been home to the Tailor family since around 1972 having moved from Uganda. Vinod and his wife, Jaimani, live in Luton with his mother and their son. As well as working in the Banking and Financial sector for 40 years, Vinod is involved in several organisations in Bedfordshire, London, India and Africa. His interests include reading, charitable works and classical music.
Speaking about his time as High Sheriff, Vinod reportedly said: “This role taught me a lot about humility and what people have done by putting themselves second and putting others first in serving the community and voluntary sector, which is a great part of the United Kingdom.”
Prakash Babulal Nathalal Parmar, the current President of Shree Wanza Samaj UK, was born in Mombasa, Kenya. He came to the UK in September 1980, when he was 16 years old. He did his GCSE & O and A levels at Copland High School in Wembley. In 1984, he went to Thames Polytechnic in Woolwich and did a one year course in Foundation in Accounting. His father Babulal Nathalal Parmar was also a prominent figure in the community.
In 1985, Prakash joined an accountancy firm and started doing his articles with them. In 1990, he joined a sole partner practice and did Book-Keeping and accounts preparation. In February 1994, he started his company offering Book-keeping and accounts preparation services. By February 2002, Prakash started looking at new opportunities. Speaking to Asian Voice he said, "I started working for a large company, in their education department which was supporting schools. During this time, I learnt to do Server and Computer installations and supporting schools remotely."
In December 2007, Prakash left the company as they had closed the offices in the area in 2006. In February 2008, he started to develop the company into I.T. Services and installation of computer hardware. As the offices were closed down in the area, schools had to wait for technician to come from either Oxford or Chelmsford. This sometimes took over a week to sort out. “A friend of mine who used to do Curriculum systems support mentioned to the schools that I had started on my own and should contact me as their queries were not being dealt with. I started getting and few calls and as I was resolving a lot of the issues quickly, word got around the Brent schools that I had started on my own. I started offering support services and with the help of a friend started to offer Hardware installations. The ethos was to give the schools the best equipment and service that we could give at the lowest cost that it could possibly could. We worked on very little margins on hardware and fixed price installations.
“In September 2011, my cousin, Tarun Gohil joined me and we started to offer curriculum support services. We now support 15 schools which are located in Brent, Barnet, Hackney and Buckinghamshire,” he added.
They now support schools by advising them in the procurement of various I.T. equipment and where they could procure it from especially when they cannot get it any cheaper.
Prakash has also been involved with The Wanza Samaj UK, as a volunteer and have served on the Committee as Committee Member, Treasurer and after taking a long break from the committee.He is the President since May 2017. The focus of the organisation has been trying to get the youth of today involved in the community, which is a hard task .
Dipak Harjivan Vaghela was born in Zambia (then, Northern Rhodesia) in a small town calling Livingstone. He lived as an extended family with his grandparents, parents, uncles and aunts. The family worked for the family business of manufacturing uniforms, jeans and casualwear, although my youngest uncle moved into the stationary business in the late eighties/early nineties.
His father, Harjivin Devraj Vaghela, strongly believed in education and whilst he did not have the opportunity to study, he actively encouraged all his siblings and his children to study.
He told Asian Voice, “For further education I came to England in 1972, and when I came to choosing my degree, opted for Law. At that time within the Asian community, there were three professions which were highly regarded: Medicine, Accountancy and Law; with a view that anything other than that was seen as almost like second best which, I suspect, had more to do with lack of understanding of other professions. I qualified as a solicitor in 1987, and at the time I started work, there were very few Dharjis (and, for that matter, Asians in general in the profession which was very much the case in the other fields also.”
He further said, “One of the difficulties I faced at the time of graduating was finding a training contract with a law firm, which I finally secured with the help of my cousin. With our parents’ encouragement and forward thinking, we were able to break free from the family trade and diversify, so much so that there is no one amongst my siblings and, indeed, my cousins who are continuing our 'trade'; although we can just about cope with a needle and thread!”
His son Akash, is a personal trainer running his own online business, www.rntfitness.com, and daughter, Roshni, is a teacher.
House of Bilimoria is a clothing label with an ethical focus. From designer and tailor Shilpa Bilimoria, who’s roots spring from a family of tailors, the craft of making clothing has always been something that is fascinating.
An item of clothing made with time, care, traditional technique, and a labor of love, can stand up and find it’s place next to a piece of ‘fast-fashion’, with it’s beauty being seen and felt by the person that is wearing it..
Timeless pieces that are considered an investment, that will stay in a person’s wardrobe for years to come, complementing their personal style, regardless of the season, or current trend.
Where possible, House of Bilimoria uses fair-trade, organic, and “end-of-line” fabrics, that are sourced both internationally, and within the UK. All production is based in a studio in the UK,where all production maintains ethical practices.
House of Bilimoria has a forward thinking vision of supporting local communities, using the revival of crafts, the traditional skills that are used to make them and the tailoring that gives them that personal touch.
Shilpa has her parents, grandparents and even great grandparents to thank for the professional journey which appears to have chosen her, and granted her not only some exceptionally creative skills with which to develop her craft, but implant in her an integrity which makes her so in demand today.
To Shilpa, who grew up listening to the drumming sounds of a sewing machine for as long as she can remember, the expectation was that surely every home would also have such a machine.
“I can remember spending hours on the sewing machine, taking offcuts from my mother’s fabrics, or repurposing old clothes until they had become an entirely new garment,” she recalls.