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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Intrepid Tailor Sewing Up Success in Moscow

To some, the tailoring business evokes visions of elegant Savile Row retainers murmuring tactful advice and working their tape measure with the ease and assured dexterity of a conjuror. But Sammy Kotwani's experiences of tailoring in early '90s Moscow blow these serene images out of the water.

Since his arrival here, Kotwani has been mugged, had his car stolen — and even received a recruiting offer from the local mafia.

But Kotwani has kept his resolve and persisted in establishing one of Moscow's premier tailoring houses.

A practitioner of "traditional, classic tailoring" whose suits keep a multitude of expat and local clients looking good by being "beyond fashion," Kotwani brought Wintex, a family business of 25 years, to Moscow in 1990 after brief stints in Africa and Europe. "There are no overheads," he says. "At Wintex, we come to you. That is the whole concept."

Kotwani was born in India in 1969, studied at a prestigious English school in Bombay and graduated from the city's one and only, and thus fiercely competitive, college offering a dedicated course in manmade textile technology.

Today, Kotwani's brothers and cousins work with clients from Kiev to Yangon, Myanmar — with operations in Central America, Africa, Europe and, of course, Russia.

"I was sitting with a client one day and I asked him casually: 'Where do you think the next market will be?' And he said Russia," Kotwani recalls.

Kotwani takes measurements here, and his clients choose from thousands of fabrics from all over the world.

The Moscow office then sends the information to Hong Kong, where a suit is made in one of five sewing houses.

Because of Hong Kong's status as a duty-free port, Kotwani's suits are significantly cheaper than their Saville Row equivalent. According to Kotwani, the company has a turnover of $3.5 million, maybe more.

While Russia seemed a welcoming place after bad experiences in European cities, Wintex Moscow, which according to Kotwani has served 5,000 clients to date, suffered a number of hitches at first.

He lost suits from Hong Kong in the Russian post — and he stayed around to wait for them.

"My first order of 10 to 12 suits has yet to arrive to this day. That made me stick to the place, you know!"

Kotwani, however, no longer relies on the local post, using airfreight instead.

But the bad luck didn't end with lost suits. Kotwani was mugged at gunpoint, his Lada car was stolen and, in what he describes as a business-related incident, he was beaten to within an inch of his life.

But Kotwani shrugs off these episodes. "I was very lucky, this place was for me — I could feel it."

For an energetic young man in his early 20s, the business possibilities in Moscow seemed potentially boundless.

Speaking from his bustling offices on Leninsky Prospekt, he recalls how he kept his reputation clean and stuck with his business.

"If I had taken a wrong step, it would never have allowed our company to be established."

Sometimes his dedication to his trade left potential partners scratching their heads.

"I was offered work in the container business, I was hauled up by mafia guys — they didn't understand what I was doing exactly."

Brimming with energy, Kotwani's love for his work clearly goes far beyond a salesman's pitch.

While the expat and diplomatic community accounted for more than 95 percent of Kotwani's client base in the early days, that figure is now closer to 70 percent.

Kotwani has great respect for his immaculately turned-out Russian clients.

"Russians are more particular about their clothes [than expats] and more serious for every dollar they spend."

His only lament is that local clients are fanatical about their designer names. And there is another problem: "It's difficult to sell things to the Russian market — the only reason is we are too cheap for them."

A top executive with a Western firm expressed the utmost satisfaction with Kotwani's wares, and Dmitry Kisilyov, an anchor at TV Center, said he was delighted after Kotwani made him an exact reproduction of a 1930s dress coat identical in all respects down to the buttons on the waistcoat. It fit like a "second skin," Kisilyov said.

The record for suits ordered from Wintex in Moscow stands at 100 suits by a single person. Another client has bought 200 shirts from the company. On average, Kotwani, who says a 14-hour day is run-of-the-mill, attracts five to six new customers per day.

"We never had a '98 crisis," he says. Indeed, this was the time that work started to pick up.

How can this be explained?

"Simple, many of my clients are top directors, and they had plenty of free time to buy suits at that time."