Name: Taal… the Ethnic Store
Owners: Josey Mathews, Dr Leelamma Abraham
Location: Near Mannai Roundabout
61 year old Josey Mathews, owner of an Indian boutique in Qatar, worked in Qtel (now Ooredoo) for 33 years and post the demise of her husband, managed to muster up courage, pick up the broken pieces of her life and follow her passion by single-handedly running her exclusive boutique.
bq: Tell us about your journey
Josey Mathews: I was working in Q-Tel (now Ooredoo) for 33 years, but due to a family tragedy, I had to retire. I always had a passion for designing, even though I am not professionally qualified for it. My sister, my children, my niece and nephews were a source of immense encouragement.
In 2003, during my niece’s wedding, I had the responsibility to take care of the bridesmaids’, flower girls’ dresses and outfits for all other members of the family. It took three months to get the finished pieces. People noticed my designs at the wedding and started inquiring. At that time there wereonly two Indian clothing stores like Bombay Silk House and Fashion Corner here in Doha. But these were just stores and not boutiques. I did some research if there was potential for this business.
There was a demand for an Indian boutique and my family members encouraged me to go ahead. My family supported me through this journey. My daughter was with me throughout. The great thing is that our tastes were exactly the same. Even when I go for purchasing for the boutique, I make sure she’s with me because she has great taste. My son has been managing the financial side of the business after his working hours. There have been times when he has accompanied me for purchasing as well.
bq: What’s the difference between a boutique and a store?
JM: When I say a boutique, I mean every piece of clothing has been handpicked. In a normal store, you will find the same design in a large number. For example, a particular outfit will be available in five different colours and different sizes, but in the same design. If you go to a wholesaler, he will ask you to take at least 100 pieces, and this is what the big stores do. Since they have a bigger requirement, they can take the same style in a variety of colours and sizes. In a boutique, we don’t buy in such large quantity, we individually designs and make sure we don’t have two of the same pieces. So every piece you find in here will be unique. We don’t do our purchasing from wholesalers; we get it from the retailers.
bq: What services do you offer?
JM: We have materials, which the customers can select from and after purchasing, they have the option of getting it stitched at our boutique or at another tailoring service, as they prefer. They can bring their own material, and we can design it for them or they can provide their design and our tailors will create the piece as per their requirements. I also design saris and different kinds of salwar suits.
bq: What types of outfits do you have?
JM: We have saris, cotton salwars, georgette salwars, party wearoutfits, ready-made kurtis and salwar
bq: What is the price range?
JM: Casual salwar materials starts
bq: Have you ever considered expanding?
JM: Yes, I have. More than me, it is my niece who has been encouraging me to go to the next level. Last year I tried to expand, and got a villa on contract for two years. It was a huge villa, and I could have had more employees which would have been far more convenient. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to carry out my business there as the villa was semi-commercial, and as per the ruling in such villas one can only conduct a single business activity. So I could either sell my material, or stitch clothes.
bq: How much time does it take a tailor to finish one piece?
JM: One tailor can finish three pieces in one day or sometimes four . But if one falls sick, a few orders go into the pending tray. But we have been able to handle such situations. Time also depends on the customer. If they feel it’s really important, we can prioritize the order, and give it to them as soon as possible. Of course sometimes there are unexpected delays; that will always be there.
bq: Where do you source your material from?
JM: I bring everything from Bombay. When I started, initially I went to Chennai. The collection was good, but the taste of the people here was totally different. Then I went to Coimbatore, Bangalore, Delhi, Banaras and finally settled on Bombay. They have the best selection, latest and trendy varieties for the best prices. I went to Banaras to get saris, they have a fabulous collection. But in Doha, the demand was not the same. So I went to Delhi, to buy some kurtis with chikan work (a type of Indian design) and believe it or not, those kurtis are still with me. I had displayed them for months, and finally removed them. I am still planning to visit Banaras again.
bq: Do you face any difficulties?
JM: In a place like this, parking is a problem and even finding the location for many. There is always construction work happening and some road is always closed, people always get confused. Nowadays customers a
bq: Tell us more about this industry, and where do you think you stand?
JM: This is a great industry. There is lot of potential and the population has increased a lot. And will keep increasing. The only thing a person in this field has to keep in mind while doing this business is having a personal touch. Customers always look for that and that’s why they would come to a boutique in the first place. They always want suggestions on new trends and styles, designs and in general they like to converse. I keep a track of every customer’s order and this also helps to ensure that the work is done in time.
bq: How often do you go?
JM: I go every three to four months. My next trip will be in August 2014.
bq: How do you ship your materials and how much time does it take?
JM: I bring everything by flight as it is faster. The problem with bringing materials by ship is that it takes at least a month and by the time the stock arrives, those clothes will be out of fashion. The procedure takes about 3 weeks – 2 weeks for formalities in India, 4 days to come here by flight and 3 days at the customs clearance. Also, there is a rule that every material that enters this country should have a ‘Made In India’ tag, and this has to be done separately as the materials I purchase don’t already have them. This is also time consuming.
bq: How do you market?
JM: People always ask me why my prices are more as compared to online, that too online purchases usually have free shipping. My prices will be slightly higher due to the costs of the entire procedure but I try to stay competitive. When I make outfits for my daughter, people used to come and inquire about them. On an average I get three people inquiring about my design after I’ve designed one outfit for a person who is going for a big party. So yes, it’s mostly word of mouth. We also have aFacebook page where we display our latest collections and announce exhibition details. I love seeing my clients satisfied with the way we have put it together and I usually ask them for pictures showing the outfits we designed after the event. This makes me feel good and I spread the word and show our customers the work we have done.
bq: Who are your customers usually?
JM: Mostly Indians, Sri Lankans and recently Pakistanis have started coming.
bq: What are your future plans?
JM: I am a firm believer of God and truly believe that this is His will for me. If I get a good villa, I would love to expand. I have lots of ideas in my mind.