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 unisex garments. The Wanza community already had links back home with businesses who could provide them with the necessary materials which they were able to supply to garment manufacturers in Kenya and wider in the country. They became the main suppliers for suiting materials and other linens required by the businesses.
Kenya was 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.
Vinod Tailor DL and former High Sheriff of Bedfordshire has 40 years of experience in the banking world and has engaged in many charities to raise funds for the needy.
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.
Priya 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.
Jagdishbhai Tailor is also well known for supplying trophies for all occasions and has a thriving business in London.
Dipak Waghela is a solicitor in London known by many and equally his son Akesh who is a body builder who travels the world entering body building competitions.
Ishwer 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
Shilpa Bilimoria of House of Bilimoria is continuing in manufacturing, fashion garments for the new generation of Indian ladies
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.