From staff to owner: Abu Dhabi's 'oldest' tailor's 50 year journey

'The UAE will continue to be a land of dreams and opportunities'



MV Sivaraman. Photo: Ashwani Kumar​
MV Sivaraman. Photo: Ashwani Kumar​
by

Ashwani Kumar

Published: Mon 10 Jan 2022, 5:43 PM

Last updated: Mon 10 Jan 2022, 8:05 PM

MV Sivaraman, a 75-year-old Indian resident, claims to be Abu Dhabi's oldest tailor, having touched the UAE shores in November 1971.

Sivaraman is grateful to the emirates, where he started as a tailor and went on to own tailoring shops in the Capital city.

The tall, well-dressed, gentle Keralite, perks up as he recollects his first steps into tailoring in the 1950s.

"When I was a child, a tailoring shop had opened near my home in Irinjalakuda. I was in Class 4 then and used to hang around that shop. The more I saw a tailor's work of art, the more I was drawn to it.

"The tailor taught me the trade, and I used to spend time there after my school hours. My father, who was then working in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), didn't initially like his son learning tailoring, but my mother convinced him.

Dabster Gents Tailoring and Textiles at Madinat Zayed Shopping Centre in Abu Dhabi City.
Dabster Gents Tailoring and Textiles at Madinat Zayed Shopping Centre in Abu Dhabi City.

"And when I was in Class 7, my father bought me a sewing machine. After completing my SSLC (Class 10) from the National High School, I worked at a tailoring shop for a year."

Seeking better opportunities, in 1965, he left his native Thrissur district for Bombay (now Mumbai).

"I am the eldest of four siblings. My father's pension of Rs32.5 was enough to lead a comfortable life. Later the pension amount was raised to Rs56 just before his death. And I was working. I could afford the Thrissur-Bombay train ticket for Rs35.

"There (in Mumbai), I worked at different shops like Deluxe Tailors and Ashok Tailors in Santa Cruz. I had good hands in making shirts and pants but got interested in making coats. I tagged along with an expert coat maker for two years to learn the craft."

A friend informed him about an opening for a coat maker in Abu Dhabi. Armed with aspirations, Sivaraman, then 24 years old, set sail to Dubai in 1971.

Photo: Ashwani Kumar​
Photo: Ashwani Kumar​

"I applied for a passport and got all the paperwork done in 2 months. I paid around Rs500 to travel from Mumbai to Dubai on a ship. After six days, on November 22, 1971, we reached Dubai. After two days, I travelled to Abu Dhabi. I joined Friends Tailors on Hamdan Street as a coat maker for Dh650. After four years, I moved to Venus Tailors for a salary of Dh1,200. It was an excellent package."

Seeing a growing demand for his work and English suits, especially from European residents, Sivaraman started his shop.

"I was good at making coats. I knew Hindi and English. The UAE was making rapid growth in the late 1970s. New businesses were blossoming. In 1978, I started my shop on Electra Street. It was easy to start your own venture," he noted.

Sivaraman started with two staff, sewing machines and a total seed money of Dh12,000 to open a shop named: Abu Dhabi New Tailor.

The business grew, and his skill gained publicity through word of mouth, which saw him start another shop on the Old Central Market.

"There was good demand for coats, morning jackets and three-piece suits. After that, I was swamped with work and had to hire more staff."

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In 2005, he had to relocate as the old market was razed for the construction of WTC Mall. He set up a new shop and, by 2011, moved to what's now the iconic Madinat Zayed Shopping Centre, where he opened Dabster Gents Tailoring and Textiles.

"It has been quite a journey. I managed different shops. I shut them over the years. Now, I am running this shop with four staff. I still have a customer named Eisa who has been coming since 1978."

Photo: Ashwani Kumar​
Photo: Ashwani Kumar​

From starting living in shared accommodation of asbestos roof and an air conditioner divided between two rooms, the septuagenarian leads a comfortable life in a penthouse.

In 2014, Sivaraman was named the ‘Best Tailor in the UAE’ based on most votes received in an online survey conducted by Dubai-based PingingU fashion and lifestyle magazine.

"I got married in 1976. My son and daughter are well settled here in the UAE. I don't know any tailor who came here in 1971 and is still in the field. So, I don't wish to return. Even if we have to live with our masks on, the business will continue to boom in this country. The UAE will continue to be a land of dreams and opportunities."


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