Not many know this but the sifr story would be incomplete without mentioning Suresh Melwani, the father of sifr’s co-founder, Suraj. He’s the man running the Indonesian family facility that produces many of the sifr garments.
It’s interesting how history repeats itself. In the 70s, Suresh entered in the fashion industry with a small, simple retail store in Indonesia selling brands like Kickers, Levi’s, Dockers, etc. His hunger for success made him realize that he wasn’t able to expand quickly with his existing set-up. He decided to take a small loan from his father (Suraj’s late grandfather) to set up a small factory. With his samples, Suresh would take orders from a tiny shack. A few years later, his brothers joined him in this venture by buying a plot of land and expanding it to house more than 400 employees. Notice the similarities with Suraj setting up K.I.N, a multi-label boutique, followed by sifr, a contemporary lifestyle brand.
How involved has your father been in the sifr process?
Suraj: My father has had a lot of input in the sifr cut and sew line, for example the Lazy Blazer and Icicle Pants. He has influenced Chris, Daryl and I in a holistic way. He has involved himself at every step of the process. He would always assist in the development stage by giving tips on how to wash or distress garments, assist with the fitting, selecting fabrics, reducing wastage and even calculating margins.
My father is key to the final product of the sifr Essentials Tees. He introduced pima cotton and even worked with us on the fits. It was pretty hilarious when he tried some of them to show how it would look on an older demographic. At the same time, he was really grateful and proud to see quality products coming out from his facility. His technical prowess combined with our innovativeness and design aesthetics gave us a solid foundation to work on. It has reshaped his perception of the full potential of his facility.
What have you learnt from your father?
Suraj: When I was working under him, I saw how he wasn’t micro managing. He was able to take himself out of the day-to-day and focus on the bigger picture. He taught me to be good at the simple things first and to be the best at it. Only then, can you move on to do more complex things. He seems to have an answer for a lot of things from business operations to grading patterns. I really respect what my father is doing.
How has your business ventures changed the father-son relationship?
Suraj: Over the last few years, I believe my father has changed his perception of me with the success of sifr and K.I.N. He has noticed my progression through the years. My father was slightly baffled when I told him of my desire to apply to Parsons but he supported it nonetheless. After graduating, I moved back to Jakarta and started to pick up the practical skills of the fashion trade. I was able to learn from him. He was able to feel my passion and understand how serious I was in understanding every step of the garment-making process. He was grateful that someone was able to fully appreciate what he was doing. He inspired me to get into this business.
Suresh: I don’t have enough words to describe my relationship with Suraj but I would hope that every father would have a kind-hearted and honest son like him. He is true to his product and believes in his work. He is still learning the business but has enough knowledge to go far in this industry.
Was there a time when you were uncertain of the future?
Suraj: I had a reality check when I started at Parsons sewing and making patterns. Every time I destroyed a seam and had to spend time undoing it, it made me reconsider what I was doing. However, I always kept the bigger picture in mind. I looked past the sewing, draping and pattern-making. I focused on the future. I had the resources, experience from my father and innovation to do something that I am passionate about which is to engineer clothing and footwear for discerning men. There aren’t many Asian menswear brands that produce clothes that display quality, comfort and value. I strongly believe that sifr is filling this void of making clothing from an Asian perspective.
Suresh: Several times, but there was one particular time when he asked me to walk along Haji lane and told me to buy some of the vacant properties. I almost collapsed. Today, I am going to collapse again because I should have listened to him. Despite having some skepticism, the proudest moment for me as a father was seeing him become an independent young man and starting his business from scratch. He never took advantage of the family resources but used his capabilities to make his mark. Working with him closely on the garments and watching how he makes decisions has been good for both of us as we learn a lot from each other. From him, I have learnt to be more innovative.
What do you think of sifr?
Suresh: sifr is a great product that reflects the youth and their ability to produce quality clothing. It’s unpretentious and has value for money. I don’t think that people appreciate the amount of thought and effort that goes into designing these clothes. Premium fabrics are used and the sifr team does not get enough credit for producing affordable products that are well constructed.
What advice would you give anyone who wants to start out in the fashion industry?
Suraj: I think the most important thing is to be passionate and immerse yourself into your craft. As my father would put it, fully invest in yourself. I learnt from him to pay attention to details, to study both the technical and operational side of the business.
Suresh: I would tell that person what I told Suraj. You should believe in what you’re doing and never get discouraged by negative comments. Always use these comments from your critics as an opportunity to improve yourself and your products. Always be honest. This is very important.