Master Sahib - as White Champa’s chief tailor is known - comes from a family of generations of tailors. From the age of eight he learned his craft from his father, who stitched gentlemens’ suits and army uniforms in Delhi’s Red Fort area. Master Sahib’s grandfather made clothes for a British family during the Raj, stitching everything by hand with an improvised tape measure. He only experienced a foot-operated sewing machine in the last months of his life.
Master Sahib says when he measures a customer he immediately visualizes the final garment on them and hopes they will feel good when wearing his clothes. He says a really good day is when he does a first fitting for a complicated design and gets it right straight away. But he knows that however good he is, some couture orders will invariably take several fittings. “My father is the one who gave me confidence. But now I am more important than my father because of the work I do. White Champa is not an ordinary Indian company; we work together as a team,” he says.
Master Sahib’s younger brother, Bablu, also works alongside him in the workshop. He is training to follow in the footsteps of his older brother and is picking up the tricks of the trade from him. Every day they come to work together on Master Sahib’s new motorcycle, travelling an hour each way. While they work they love to listen to Hindi film songs or the cricket commentary on the radio.
Rauf is a member of Master Sahib’s team. He, too, comes from a family of tailors. To say that Rauf has worked his way up from the bottom in this trade would be an understatement. His life reads like a fantastical movie script. After his mother died and his stepmother did not want him around, he was sent to Old Delhi to apprentice in a tailor’s shop, a boy of only twelve. Alone in the city, he slept on the pavement in front of the shop. It wasn’t until he was thirteen that he first received a salary rather than just food scraps return for his labour. Before he came to work at White Champa, Rauf went to Bombay hoping to fulfill a dream of making more money. He still harbours a desire to go to the Middle East and make his fortune. But for the time being he’s happy putting together White Champa’s ready-to-wear collection, proud of all the beautiful outfits he has helped to create.