As a young man in 1972 in Bangkok, Ravi Sehgal had a small shop selling fabric to U.S. servicemen who passed through the city to or from the Vietnam War. He watched them take the fabric to local tailors and struggle to explain what they wanted made. Ravi’s English was strong, so he frequently offered to translate so the Americans could explain what they wanted made to the local tailors.
One day in the heat and diesel fumes of a busy Thai street, he was playing the middleman in yet another communications breakdown. An idea came to him: that he could become a tailor and avoid this daily struggle between the customers and tailors in Bangkok. He’d no longer be the fabric seller handling the customers for someone else. But where to begin?
He started on the first of what would become a series of design courses. He already knew fabric and so was delighted to discover he had a head start on his peers. 4 years later after study, practice, and countless nights hunched over fabric, he set up his own shop. It was the proud start of a new life. It didn’t matter that he didn’t have any customers, or that he didn’t know if he could separate himself from all the shoddy shops that ripped customers off (or even if anyone would notice). Would anyone pay a bit more for work that was actually good? Would he have to go back to selling fabric and forget all his tailor training?
It turned out knowing how to understand the customer’s needs, and ensuring quality with a guarantee actually did get noticed. In fact, business was so successful that Ravi never took a vacation, and he worked every day of the week. His customers knew they could always find him in his shop to solve problems or simply consult with them on their wardrobe. Within ten years, customers were inviting him to Europe to clothe them on the other side of the planet. Then he was invited to America. Then he had to take someone with him to handle all the customers. Then the one store was not enough.
One store became two. Two became three. To keep up with orders, he had to open a factory dedicated to over 1500 custom ordered suits a year.
After 30 years of measuring, traveling and watching fashion come and go, Ravi owns multiple shops, regularly serves clients on three continents and has a full staff and factory. Ravi doesn’t have to come to the shop anymore… In fact, business has been so good, his family knows he doesn’t need to work at all. But some things never change, and every morning he is in his flagship store with a measuring tape and every night he still advises customers. It was never about the money, it is about taking pride in craftsmanship. His son Amit says the only vacation his dad took was for a family wedding… and then he came right back to work 7 day weeks.
Amit will tell anyone that Ravi should take a vacation and regular days off. He will also share how much he admires that his father built an international business from one good idea while hawking fabric on a Thai street. Amit now accompanies Ravi from NY to London and Houston to Amsterdam attending to what is now a family business.