Address: 69-71 Foster St, Dandenong VIC 3175
Phone: (03) 9792 5688
From an interview with Shahid that has been edited
I was working as an architect until 1994.
But there was a recession in Australia and I lost my job.
One of my friends in Sydney offered me partnership to open a clothing shop – also called Roshan’s Fashions – in Melbourne.
“Since you’re not working at the moment, why don’t you give it a go,” he said.
“Okay,” I replied.
“For a few years I’ll give it a go.”
We decided on Dandenong because lots of customers from Melbourne – who used to frequent the shop in Sydney – lived in the surrounding areas.
Foster St has 37 shops on both sides of the street and – following the recession – 35 were vacant.
I started in a shop across the road that was significantly cheaper at the time.
Within three or four weeks I was running my business.
This was the first Indian fashion shop for men, women and children in Victoria.
I was flat out with queues happening outside my smaller shop, so I had to expand immediately. The same agent offered me a reduced price for this space and – with a little bit of negotiation – we agreed.
I came here after about 18 months, in 1996.
I also started an advertisement on 3ZZZ, a local radio station. They have an Indian program, and we used a very popular song with the name Roshan in it, meaning bright. The ad said, “after great success in Sydney, we have come to Melbourne.”
From there, it was all word of mouth.
Customers said that we sold quality items at a very good price.
A few Indian fashion shops opened over time.
Many people got the idea that we were a successful business and – around 2005 – a burst of shops suddenly opened.
I told the Council that this is becoming Little India and, about a year later, they officially established it. Little India extends from Foster St near the Dandenong Railway Station up to Thomas St, and a part of Mason St.
The State Government decided to redevelop this area and, as an architect, I had to agree as these were very old buildings. But, in all of our meetings, we insisted that the ground floor should be left for Indian shops.
In business we are rivals, but we made a Little India Trading Association and at the gatherings we are all friends. We demonstrated and did whatever we had to do to make sure that the area would be protected.
Now, Little India has grocery stores, restaurants, clothing shops, accessories, jewellery, shoes, handbags & whatever else you need.
It is catering to all different requirements.
I have always specialised in bridal dresses.
Red is usually used for the bridal dress, and some females want to cover their head and face so we also have dresses for this purpose.
We also sell simpler designs for every-day events, and for people who don’t want to dress up. With the sarees, the silk and cotton used to be so soft and thin that it could go through a ring, but this is an old saying. This material is too expensive and can only be worn in summer, so the ring-test isn’t really used anymore.
We have pure georgette and chiffon sarees, and most of the cheaper sarees are made with synthetic material. If the material is so delicate, the work has to be so delicate. The worker spends more time on it and it becomes more expensive. So, the synthetic georgette sarees costs $110 instead of $300.
As other shops have opened, some customers have said that I am too expensive and have left me.
Not everyone understands the difference in fabric.
With Pakistani dresses the style and the material is different.
It tends to be a little bit simpler, but very elegant.
Some customers from Pakistan seem to like Indian clothing, and some Indian customers like Pakistani clothing. It has become a fashion like that.
And, when people see a movie, an actor wears something and the customer wants it.
“I want this dress in this song in this film,” they will say.
200-300 dresses are worn in one 180-minute movie.
How can I remember?
And it’s not just Indian customers who come here.
We have lots of westerners who buy Indian dresses.
Because there are so many multicultural weddings, if one partner is Indian, the other partner might wear Indian clothing.
There are often two functions. They’ll wear white for one and red for the other.
And in India, if we do a wedding there are a range of customs that can go on for weeks and weeks.
It’s not a one-day thing.
Being an architect has been a great help in running this business.
I can design my own shop which is a good thing, and I have learned how to work professionally.
There are some businessmen who haven’t learned the professional way of dealing with customers.
Regardless of whether a customer is buying a $5 item or a $500 item, I treat everyone equally.
“This is what I wanted from you, and you’re the only one providing these things,” I want people to say.
We also have a tailor who works here, and people come for alterations. Some shops have a, “if you don’t buy it, we don’t do it” policy.
But we do it for everyone.
That’s the service we give.
Every two months the fashion changes, and every thirty years the fashion comes back with a different approach.
We keep up with magazines, and manufacturers send us pictures.
I get 300-400 pictures in my email, and – every day – I get 100-200 whatsapps telling us what’s in fashion.
Sometimes it takes me three weeks to get a special product and, by the time I sell it, it may be out of fashion.
Dandenong has become very lively.
When I started and all of the shops were vacant it was pretty scary.
Thursday and Friday were for late night shopping, and I used to stay until 9pm.
Within 3-4 weeks, I moved it back to 8pm, then 7pm but – as soon as it is dark & no one came inside – I changed it to 6pm.
But since the establishment of Little India it is much safer during the day.
It is well lit, with people working late at night.
I enjoy working.
I said I’d retire at 55, and I’m now 63.
If I retire, I’d become bored.
It all depends on my health.
But, as long as I can go, I’ll keep working.
Written by Aron Lewin, all photos by Tatiana C C Scott