Noor Collection isn’t just a shop on Sari Street. It’s a portal into the heart of Australian Indian designer fashion and a trusted space of sage advice.
In essence, walking inside the shop and speaking with owner Manpreet Kaur is a sensory experience: from the beauty of her designs, to the brightness and colours of the exclusive outfits, and the sense of trust that comes from her love of weddings, her culture, family and community.
Manpreet came to Australia in 2008 from Ludhiana, on the Indian side of Punjab. She brought a family history of fashion design with her.
“My Dad is also a fashion designer. I grew up in the shop, and always had an interest,” Manpreet says.
“I started fashion designing on my own in Australia. My customers increased. They encouraged me and inspired me to open my own store.”
“After I did, in the beginning it was hard. But then I got used to it, and I’m still working in the store,” she laughs.
Noor Collection started as a small shop near the railway line in Liverpool. After 2 years, Manpreet was able to purchase a bigger shop on George Street, which at the time had not become widely known as ‘Sari Street.’ In addition to clothing sales, she offered a tailoring service, but after a few years she chose to stop and focus on selling designer fashion.
Manpreet now fulfils orders from across Australia, in an ever-expanding fashion empire.
“People from Adelaide and Melbourne come here. From all over Australia they come to shop. I have many customers in Brisbane, and am planning to open a shop in Brisbane.”
“We opened in Canberra but closed because of transport issues. We will open there in future because of the good response.”
Manpreet sees fashion as a visible sign of identity and a way to build connections.
“I believe that fashion is the best way to describe your culture to others,” she says.
“I create clothes in the Punjabi style - suits, phulkaris, kurta pyjamas. It shows my culture and where I’m from,” says Manpreet.
“We have a different taste other than communities - I like to keep that taste in my shop. People come especially to see me to find traditional clothes. I tell them they don’t need to go all the way to Punjab. And they listened. Now I have many customers who come here to shop for their weddings and bring their whole families.”
Manpreet’s support to customers and families goes beyond outfits. In Indian weddings, there are a significant amount of religious and cultural rituals. Often, young people and their families can find this litany of events bewildering. Manpreet understands how this confusion arises.
“Many actually don’t know what to do during their weddings. Because we’ve seen this so many times, we also give advice on the traditional things that you have to do.”
“Our relationship with our customers is more than just selling things. It’s a family-style relationship.”
Manpreet reflects on the proliferation of sari and fashion shops on Sari Street. She says it is the most popular destination for wedding and sari shopping in the country.
“You can’t find that much variety in other parts of Australia, only here,” she says.
But Manpreet also reflects on the flipside of this opportunity in her role as a business owner and entrepreneur as she continues trying to expand her enterprise to help more people.
“There are so many shops in the street, so it’s hard to grow in a big market.”
“My secret is to try to understand customer needs. For me, the main part is the way you’re talking with your customers. If you give them space openly, they will trust you,” discloses Manpreet.
Over the past 13 years, Manpreet has built that trust with repeat customers, and they in turn have passed on that trust to their families. It’s a warm affirmation of Manpreet’s people-first approach to business.
“Mothers who came with their children now send them alone. They say, ‘she will give you the right advice.’
“It makes me satisfied with my business when I hear that. I really believe the important part is how you deal with others. If you’re talking nicely they will stay with you. This business is at least 50% clothes and 50% how you deal with customers.”
Manpreet continues her family traditions now with her children. Though she admits that running the shop with young children is a challenge, there is a communal sense of connectedness that emerges.
“This is a family affair, like it was back overseas in India.”
“My two children were always in the store while they were under 5. Now they are in school, but stay in the shop for 2 or 3 hours after school. It’s hard because they have to spend most of their Saturdays and Sundays and school holidays here.”
“The life of being a business owner is that you continue doing your business the whole day. Even after coming home, I’m doing the orders.”
Manpreet’s daughter Pradhdeep works in the shop with her, and she continues to advise her to adopt the same ethos.
“I say, ‘They may not buy your things but if they like your attitude and behaviour they will come back the next time.’”
“Pradhdeep helps me on the weekends and lots of customers love her. As she was growing up, I didn’t want to let her do jobs anywhere else. Helping in the business is the best way to learn. Later my children can take what they’ve learned and decide their own future, what they want to do and become.”
Liverpool offered Manpreet and her family a familiarity and a way to forge a community.
“We made lots of friends in the parks in Liverpool, with our kids. Now it’s going to their homes and celebrations and it’s a good relationship, with deep roots with the many friends we have,” she reflects.
“Now these friends are not friends only, we feel like they are our family members. There are lots of Indians here, more and more, and it’s like a big city with a hospital. We’ve moved further out but still love to work in Liverpool.”
In summing up her journey, Manpreet reflects on her perseverance and hopes to pass on her tenacity to the next generation.
“When you start anything, it’s always hard work,” she advises. “You should keep going on, it will work for you. You shouldn’t leave it - keep hope to grow things up.”
It’s hope that Manpreet sees in her customers, as well as the passing on of their traditions and cultures. Manpreet’s shop Noor Collection is part of Liverpool Council’s Starry Sari Night fashion show, and Manpreet looks forward to seeing her designs on stage.
As ever, she’s excited to welcome the community into her shop, in the hope that they will eventually join her and become spirited members of her broader family.
Noor Collection is located at Shop-1/231 George Street, Liverpool. It is a participating fashion boutique and part of the fahsion show for in Liverpool Council's Starry Sari Night, a South Asian festival taking place 20-22 May.
SAARI Collective is a media partner for Starry Sari Night.
Sandeep Varma is the Founder of SAARI Collective.