The man behind Zuma's suits cuts a fine figure

2016-03-11 07:54
The man behind President Jacob Zuma's suits tells his story. Janak Parekh believes everyone has a hidden talent. (Amanda Khoza, News24)

The man behind President Jacob Zuma's suits tells his story. Janak Parekh believes everyone has a hidden talent. (Amanda Khoza, News24)

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Durban – The humble Durban designer says he is cut from the same cloth as everyone else. The only difference? He has a special talent.

Janek Parekh, 59, is the man behind some of the suits seen on the country's foremost politicians - including President Jacob Zuma.

He lives by the rule, "Never underestimate the power of a common man" - partly in reference to his humble beginnings in India

While initially reluctant to be interviewed, he was eventually swayed after much convincing from and negotiation with his wife, Ntokozo.

Parekh was born in India and raised in Gujrat with his six siblings.

Growing up in a textile community was not easy, he said.

His father, Yeshwantlal died at the age of 102 and his mother at 98.

"My mother was a housewife and I went to English medium schools. I did a mechanical engineering post graduate diploma in automobile engineering."

(All pictures supplied by Janek Parekh)

Parekh decided to leave his home against his family's wishes in 1990.

"When I came to South Africa I was interested in building business relations but it was very difficult to do business during apartheid.

"I have always loved South Africa but my paternal side of the family wanted me to move to America instead of South Africa."

He stuck to his resolve and came to South Africa. Not long after he arrived, word got out that he had natural medicine from India that cured arthritis.

A member of the Zulu Royal family made a request for the medicine.

"I gave the medicine to the late Prince Gideon Zulu, Dr Mangosuthu Buthelezi's uncle who later introduced me to the rest of the royal family.

"I got to really know Buthelezi around 1992. I met him at the opening of Mahlabathini traditional court.

"I saw him and I observed how immaculately dressed and neat he was."

Without Buthelezi's knowledge, Parekh decided to have a suit made for him.

"I created the design and I got the suit made in India. I did not need to take the measurements, I don't measure my clients. I look at them and I can tell their size."

Parekh said he presented the suit, much to Buthelezi's delight.

"He was very surprised at how well it fitted him.

"A lot of people saw the suit and eventually it attracted many other high profile people including kings and heads of states."

He said he realised then that he had a talent for designing suits.

Parekh's highly exclusive clientele includes President Jacob Zuma, ANC Treasurer General Zweli Mkhize and many others who, because of client confidentiality, cannot be named.

One of Parekh's most recognisable works is Zuma's gold and black Indian-style suit with intricate metal embroidery.

"I presented it to him just before his 65th birthday and I was surprised to see him on TV wearing it days later."

Parekh designed another suit for the president inspired by leopard print.

"I have designed more than 10 suits for the president and I was chuffed to see him walking next to Sepp Blatter during the World Cup wearing one of my suits.

"I also design normal suits for him."

Parekh said he met Zuma before he became president.

"We met through a reference from another client. He appreciates my designs. He bought a shirt that he presented to former president Nelson Mandela for his 93rd birthday."

Parekh said he imported fabric from all over the world, mainly from the Czech Republic. He draws the designs and gets them sent to India where they are made. Depending on the intricacy of the design, a suit is usually ready within two to three weeks.

"My designs are never the same because the fabric is imported. Many of my clients have begged me to open a boutique but I feel like they will be offended when they start seeing their suits on other people."

He said his clients always come back because of the exclusivity of the designs.

"President Jacob Zuma will never wear an outfit he has seen on another person and that is the reason why I want to keep my designs exclusive."

When it came to prices, Parekh said his clients were willing to dig deep.

"There are no limits. The cheapest suit is about R8 000 and the price rises depending on what the client wants."

He said he has never come across a client who was not impressed with his designs.

Even though he has rubbed shoulders and shaken hands with some of the most powerful people, Parekh said he remains humble.

"I lead a very simple life. I don't even have a car. Most of my clients come to see me at my flat in North Beach. I enjoy interacting with people from all walks of life, especially ordinary citizens."

He said money and fame do not faze him.

"Sure my designs are worn by very important people, but I want to share my knowledge with ordinary people, especially those in rural areas."

Parekh believes he can turn the ugliest design into something elegant and exquisite.

"I think I have a good eye for fashion. I believe that everybody has a hidden talent. People just need the right support and an opportunity to showcase their ability," he said.

(All pictures supplied by Janek Parekh)

Read more on:    jacob zuma  |  durban

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