Labour of love: Through the eye of the needle
In the second installment of our three part series, JustHere looks at the everyday tailor. Born and bred in fabric and thread, they bring to Qatar years of tradition and experience. Indispensable for decades to locals and expatriates alike, these tailors now battle increasing rents, waning businesses, and the imminent threat of eviction. Calm in the face of these radical changes, they speak not of their woes or troubles. Their stories are ones of hope, love, and above all, determination.
The search for the everyday tailor was a long-winded excursion into the heart of Doha. Our starting point, the souqs Al Dera and Al Asiri, renowned locally for their sartorial prowess, were devoid of tailors, and filled instead with stores selling fabric and cheap readymade clothes. From there, it was a half an hour hunt through the myriad of by-lanes and sub-lanes in pursuit of the much-hyped Souq Reem that was rumoured to be the go-to place for low-end tailoring. Once there, it took one look at the vacant ground floor and the five uninviting shops that it housed, stocked solely with ready-to-wear jalabiyas, to realise that the search had been futile. Another 40-minute car ride and countless contradicting directions later, we finally found ourselves in streets teeming with tailoring stores.
These are not the tailoring stores that we imagine though. The gilded, suave ateliers of the high-end designers featured in JustHere’s previous piece are a far cry from the brick shantytowns that house the normal man’s tailor. Gone are the velvet couches and glass viewing tables, replaced instead by cracked walls, mismatched chairs, harsh fluorescent lighting, and threadbare carpets. A general air of unkemptness seeps through the walls, infecting people and clothes alike.
The tailors however, seem strangely unaffected by their surroundings. Almost in a world of their own, they were unanimously hesitant to speak, and exceedingly wary of people poking into their cherished businesses. It took several exhausting minutes of explaining and assuring to get them to agree to the most basic of interviews.
“We don’t say yes to reporters. The last one came here around five years ago, but we sent her away. We’re simple people. We don’t see the need for all of this…” explains Muhammad Bajwa, a Pakistani tailor from Ramada Tailors in Al Muntazah, gesturing in my direction.
While cold-shouldered through most of my initial questioning, and discretionary in their answers, even the most tight-lipped of tailors however, seem unable to resist the allure of telling their stories.
Once upon a time…
To Muhammed, and other tailors in the Al Muntazah area, tailoring is as much a way of life as it is their livelihood. Most storeowners live directly above, or in the vicinity of their shops, having been brought up in the business. “My father started this shop in 1984,” begins Muhammed, “Everyday after school, I’d come here and spend the evening with him. When I finished high school, taking over the shop was the natural thing to do. That’s what I’ve been doing ever since.”
The disarray of their small stores reflects the realities these predominantly Pakistani and Indian tailors face everyday.
Their lives, like their businesses, have endured massive changes through the years. Qatar’s booming economy, while beneficial to the country as a whole, has strained the lives of these tailors. The disarray of their small stores reflects the realities these predominantly Pakistani and Indian tailors face everyday. Steep rent increases and the constant demolition surrounding them plagues them daily.
Sitting in his shoebox workspace, Saeed Ali from India, talks about the Qatar he first came to. Upon arrival, he initially operated out a villa, before that was torn down in favour of a high-rise. He then moved into his current premises – a washroom cubicle sized store at the side of Al Meera.
Back then, he paid QR 500 in rent. Now, it amounts to QR 4000.
Busy sewing, the weary Saeed is still optimistic. He jokes as he talks about the rent and overheads he incurs as he finishes yet another nightdress. Holidays are a rarity in the business, he says. For most tailors, their work is their passion, and their necessity. “We have no holidays,” says Saeed, smiling, “Who will pay the rent if we take a break? This isn’t a gold shop. It’s a shop to earn money.”