Interesting journey of Sammy Kotwani from Mumbai to Moscow

May 29, 2018, 14:48 IST | Amit Kumar

A qualified tailor with experience of working in Hong Kong, Africa and Europe, Kotwani came to Russia in 1990 when the Soviet Union was on its last legs

Sammy Kotwani

The journey of Sammy Kotwani from Mumbai to Moscow is stuff that legends are made of. Given his credentials, he thinks that he stands a fair chance to contest in the presidential election of 2024, much as the news may sound unbelievable to everyone in India.

A qualified tailor with experience of working in Hong Kong, Africa and Europe, Kotwani came to Russia in 1990 when the Soviet Union was on its last legs.

Sammy Kotwani, 49, the founder of "The Imperial Tailoring Co.", grew up in a world of fashion. Kotwani started his career back in Mumbai already in his adolescence. Then he joined in the institute of silk and serigraphy under the scientific association of SASMIRA – one of the most prestigious institutes of India. He obtained DMTT (Diploma in man-made textile technology) and DMST (Diploma in Man-made spinning technology) from there. After a few years, being deeply impressed by the English fashion, continued his learning process in the best designing schools of London for a few years. He started working under the best tailors, who specialize in bespoke tailoring in London. He had a lot of clients from different corners of the world.

“In 1990, I was in Belgium when I met with a partner of "Ernst & Young". He told me that in the future Moscow will present an excellent opportunity for business such as ours, and advised me to not deviate from my course and concentrate on making just custom-made suits for men. "If you make a place for you in the heart of Moscow, you'll stay there for ever", this is what he said," Kotwani told Mid Day.

This was easier said than done. First the Indian needed to receive his Russian visa, which turned out to be something that was far from simple. At the Russian Consulate in Brussels, where Sammy went to get his visa, they told him “You are an Indian, why do you want to get a Russian visa in Belgium? Head back to your country, to Delhi, and request a Russian visa at the Russian consulate there.”

However, Sammy’s wish to make his way to the enigmatic country was so strong, that he decided to go down a different road. He made the acquaintance of the Russian consul and made him an amazing suit. The latter thankfully helped Sammy get his business visa to Russia for an entire year.

In 1991, Kotwani started the company "Wintex International" and sold bespoke suits in embassies for diplomats and foreign businessmen in Moscow. "In those days, 90% of our clients were foreigners. In 1994, my younger brother Jimmy joined me in Moscow, then my youngest brother Andy followed his steps in 1995, after finishing his studies," Sammy said, adding the financial crisis of 1998 made them lose a lot of clients. "We had to make a new business plan to survive. Then we thought – Why should we specialise only on foreign clients, when we live in this city? That is how we changed our strategy and started the fight for Russian clients. That is how "The Imperial Tailoring Co." was born," he added.

In 2003, they opened their salon in the Gostinniy Dvor. The salon is decorated in the English king Edward's style. "The whole process took more than 6 months, but the result is worth it. As designers and craftsmen of tailoring business, we have brought in a rare combination of sound technology and cultural and traditional essence of the English tailors, representing two worlds. Having started our careers quite successfully at a very young age, we found out that we can easily bridge the generation gap. We mix our broad experience, advanced technology and style. Being the experts of an wonderful craftsmanship, giving an intriguing image for all different age groups and professions," said Jimmy Kotwani, the younger brother.

Today the Imperial Tailoring Co. counts 15 thousand individual clients, including business people and politicians, amongst whom are more than a few famous persons. The company’s services were sought by, for example, family of Mikhail Gorbachev.

Among Kotwani’s customers are also Russian ministers, business tycoons and showbiz celebrities, as well as a handful of Presidents of neighbouring countries, including Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Armenia. His salon is strategically located within Moscow’s “golden mile,” a stone’s throw from the Kremlin.

"I am suggested by my well wishers that I have a chance to stand for the Russian Presidential elections. The Russian community which includes the influential ones in Moscow say my journey is a story to tell and they would stand by me in my campaign. I also think I must give it a try and I feel chances of winning is also quite good given the friendship I share across party line here," says Sammy Kotwani.

The Russian media at regular interval covers my story and once I mentioned about my plans to stand for the elections and it was a encouragement that they covered the news well and I was responded by encouraging words my many of the influential people in Moscow, he adds.

Kotwani came to Russia when other foreigners were leaving a nation that seemed to to be on the brink of economic and political collapse. It was not the best time to start a business in Russia, let alone such an upscale one as bespoke tailoring. He stuck with Russia during those early years and persisted in doing what he knew best — offer high-quality tailoring services. Today, Kotwani's Imperial Tailoring Co not only dominates the Russian or Eastern Europe market of men’s tailored suits, but is rated among the world’s best tailoring companies. Sammy offers his customers a choice of 10,000 British and Italian woollens. He calls back his suits every six months for free dry cleaning and ironing, and provides free alterations if the client gains or loses weight.

Kotwani, who is also President of Indian Business Alliance, an association of Indian companies working in Russia, has one big disappointment. The Indo-Russian trade and economic ties have so far failed to take off in a big way. “There are huge possibilities for Indians in Russia, provided they come here, not for a quick buck, but for a long-haul journey,” he opines. As for himself, Kotwani has settled in Russia for good with his Indian wife and three daughters.

He witnessed the fall of the great Soviet empire, survived the post-Soviet economic meltdown, and saw at close range the tank bombardment of the rebellious Russian Parliament by troops loyal to President Boris Yeltsin.

Kotwani was robbed at gunpoint on his doorstep in 1991, had his car stolen on the very day he bought it in 1993, and lost most of his expat clientele in the massive financial crash of 1998. But he never despaired. “I’ve been always successful in times of crisis,” Sammy said. "Crisis gives me a wakeup call."

When asked why are you so confident that you may become President of Russia, Sammy said, more than half of Russian ministers, who are also his clients, support him. "Every year, I organise Ganpati puja here at India Cultural Centre at Kuusinena Street, where not only Indians, but also Russians attend in big number. In nine days festivals, thousands of people visit there and celebrate Ganpati festival. Many leading Bollywood singers including Suresh Wadekar, Kavita Podwal and Snoop Jalota have performed there year after year," Sammy said.

Sammy also play big role in organising two-day India Day festival, where more than half million people visit every year. "This year, the celebration of Days of India will be held at Sokolniki Park, spread over 100 acres, on Aug 12 and 13. We are expecting attendance of about one million people there. No other programme is organised at this scale in Moscow," said Sammy.

Kotwani brothers are born and brought at Borivali and his family reside at Lokhandwala in Mumbai.

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