Spending hours after school helping his family run their tailoring business, Rakesh Kumar’s nose for a good opportunity was nurtured from an early age. At 10 years old, an enterprising Rakesh would spend 1 rupee on a twelve pack of biscuits, and turn a profit by individually selling each of the biscuits to his friends. Today, Rakesh is the owner of Rivaaz Fashion, Liverpool’s “one stop shop” for South Asian clothing, jewellery and accessories.
Watching his father build a tailoring business from the ground up, left an indelible mark on Rakesh, firing his entrepreneurial spirit. “My father was a very respected man. He came from Pakistan when the Partition happened in 1947 to Hoshiarpur. At that time, my family decided to start a tailoring business called Amar Boutique, named after my father. After he started the business, things went up and down a lot. During my school years, our business was really struggling financially.”
Supporting family and learning to innovate
While the idea of sitting in front of a sewing machine never truly excited Rakesh, he wanted to support his family. "My first job outside the family business was in my teenage years, as a salesman for a jewellery shop. I got my first salary there, of 5 rupees - which is not even 10 cents today." It was here that Rakesh realised he had a love for meeting new people and working in sales.
A few years later, our family shop was still struggling. I knew I wasn’t interested in tailoring but I decided to help my dad at the boutique and started learning to stitch.”
A forward thinking Rakesh found himself often butting heads with his father, who was more traditional in the way he wanted to run the business. “At that time, I didn’t have enough freedom, and had an argument with my father. I went elsewhere for a job.”
Despite little skill in stiching clothes, a fiery, young Rakesh convinced a local boutique owner that he would be able to tailor garments.
“A job of just 15-20 minutes took me two hours to do. But after a few days, I was very fast.” recalls Rakesh.
After 8 months of stitching clothes for a few local businesses, Rakesh had pooled together savings to support his family. In his time working outside Amar Boutique, Rakesh had been noticing the latest fashion and store trends, and brought his learnings back to the family business to implement.
“I organised some money and put it towards redecorating the shop. Within a month, our popularity increased.”
Choosing love and migrating to Australia
Rakesh had spent the better part of his youth building himself as a businessman and supporting his family. He had a nurturing network of friends and relatives around him, and had a girlfriend who was in Australia at the time. While he never felt lonely, Rakesh didn’t want to continue his relationship long distance and was ready for the next step.
No stranger to challenges, Rakesh and then girlfriend (now ex-wife) tied the knot and were eager to start a new life together in Australia.
With migration on the horizon, Rakesh spent many months working hard to save as much of his earnings as he could to build the funds needed to start a new life in Australia. For South Asian migrants, in spite of high hopes of building a new life in a new country, it is a gruelling journey to establish oneself and make those dreams a reality. Arriving in 2007 to Australia, Rakesh’s first few weeks were spent waking up before sunrise to go out and look for work opportunities.
Building a business in a new country
In 2010, Rakesh took the leap of opening up his own business called Kumar Tailors and Professional Alteration. Not long after, Rakesh had employed staff within his business and was a known name across the South Asian community in NSW. In three years time, a small corner store turned into a sublease partnership offering more space alongside Woodlands Tandoori Restaurant. And as his business evolved, the name of the business also evolved to be Kumar Tailors and Fashion Accessories.
Today, Rakesh owns multiple boutiques in Liverpool including Rivaaz Collection, Kumar Fashion and Accessories and Dulhan Exclusive, the former two of which are neighbouring stores connected from within. Rakesh is currently engaged in renovations to extend the building and include Dulhan Exclusive in the same space. “Slowly I extended the store from one side and then another, like a tree,” Rakesh said. What was once a 50 square metres corner stuffed with vibrant embroidered fabrics is now over 600 square metres of Rakesh’s entrepreneurial legacy.
Connection with the local community
Despite migrating in the 2000’s with no other family in Australia, Rakesh has never felt alone in his journey. “Since starting my business here, I’ve never felt a lack of community. I have so many customers who are Indian, Fijian, Nepali, Bangladeshi, Afghani etc. and I connect with them all.” Rakesh begins his week visiting the Shiv temple every Monday. “I never miss it!” In addition, Rakesh enjoys attending every possible South Asian cultural festival in the area. “Any cultural event that’s running, we promote it in our shop and make sure to give pamphlets to every customer.”
Having worked in Liverpool for over twenty years, Rakesh has a close relationship with its community. “Liverpool is a great community. The council makes every festival and every celebration look like…wow. When people come to visit, they want to come see George Street, even if they don’t want to buy anything.”
“There is very good competition between the stores here and we also support each other. Whenever a customer comes and they are hungry, we give them the best recommendations of where to eat. If they want a good samosa, we tell them where to get the best samosa.”
Reflecting on his own entrepreneurial journey, Rakesh’s advice to the younger generation would be to go out and learn as much as they can about their interest and be passionate about whatever you’re doing. “If you establish your passion and work hard, you will do very well.”
Rivaaz Collection is located at Shop-4/224 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.
Harshdeep Kaur is the Editorial Lead at SAARI Collective.