Shekh Shahbul Hussein

Shahbul Bhai sits at his workstation, pencil and scale fixed in each hand, as he recalls the time he first came to Mumbai.

“I moved to Mumbai from Calcutta in 1995 to look for jobs as a tailor. The textile market in the late nineties in Calcutta was very saturated and there weren’t enough job opportunities. I have been here for twenty-seven years and my longest job has been with Papa Don’t Preach.” 

Before he spent years learning the craft of hand embroidery, Shahbul Bhai wanted to be a mechanical engineer. 

“All the men in my family work in the carpentry and tailoring business. I wanted to be a mechanical engineer, I even started studying for it but my father convinced me to join the tailoring business because it was a field that the men from my community have been working in for ages.At the age of 21, I began learning the craft and once you start a career, it’s hard to make an industry switch.”

A new father, Shahbul Bhai’s youngest son is only fifteen days old. He looks forward to how each of his children will embrace their future. 

“I have five children. My youngest son, Sajid, is only fifteen days old. When I look at my family, I look forward to what my children will do with their life. I don’t want to push my beliefs on them. I want to watch them make up their own minds. My oldest is 19 years old, she is very interested in fashion and often admires the PDP designs and embellishments we put on the lehenga.”

It’s often easy to misunderstand how each karigar’s specific talents aid in making the designs. Shahbul Bhai details his role at our sampling unit. 

“I have seen the company shift manufacturing and sampling units three times. This is definitely our biggest space. When we moved in here, I was happy to see how far we have come. I was also excited I had a larger space to work in. I work with tracing paper and fabrics that are the size of an actual lehenga, around 44 inches, it requires very strong bright white lights and a steady hand. When you see intricately detailed flowers, fruits or animal motifs on a lehenga, it is only possible to embroider those details with the help of a stencil. I replicate digital design from the designer’s Ipad and bring it to life on a lehenga-sized stencil, we call the khaka. The embroidery is then traced with the help of that khaka. If I make, even a small mistake, in the drawing, it reflects in the final piece.”   

Shahbul doesn’t play favorites when it comes to dressing celebrities, unless it comes to Kareena Kapoor. 

“I am happy to see all the celebrities we’ve dressed but I am waiting to see Kareena Kapoor wearing a bridal lehenga from Papa Don’t Preach. My personal favorite is the mandir (doorway) lehenga. I am also proud to work on the new menswear line for the bridal collection. Everything we have done with this collection has been brand new, never done before, this includes menswear.”

When it comes to maintaining the balance between designer and the design, Shahbul’s experience is what aligns him to the brand ethos. 

“I set and embroider designs onto the khaka. I have spent so much of the last decade learning the nuances of Shubhika madam’s design sense. Her likes and dislikes, that I feel like I can do it with my eyes closed. Now that we have a larger team and junior designers on board, I am learning to do it all over again. The relationship between a karigar and the designer is based on a delicate balance. The karigar understands the designer’s vision and the designer understands the karigar’s talents and capabilities. Both play to each other’s strengths. That’s why our team has worked seamlessly together for a decade.”

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