Art & Culture

Can Rs 99 Change Your Life? The Rise of Sultan, the Kurta King

How one man made ethnic wear a fashion statement. The story behind a Kolkata fashion empire

Kolkata: They say that a lion before making the final leap takes a step back. In ways similar to it, this youngster in early 2000 chose not to start on with his business sale despite having his stock and shop in place. He chose to strike at the right time with the right strategy.

As Ramadan arrived, back in 2001, he placed ads and banners with an unbelievable offer – Kurtas for only 99 and that too with a one-year guarantee. A tempting deal that not many would want to miss. The unique marketing strategy gave the now-famous-ethnic brand for men the push that its founder had anticipated – a record-breaking sale that saw buyers queued to buy kurtas for Rs 99. Within an hour the stock ended. The crowd went into a frenzy to catch hold of its kurta, glasses broke, police had to be called to reign control and then as they say – the rest is history.

The man behind it was Arshad Shamim, the Managing Director of Sultan – The King of Kurtas. Born in a family that dealt in ethnic wear, especially for women, Shamim aspired to grow beyond Chittpur, the hub for ethnic wear manufacturers in Kolkata.

The journey of this commerce graduate from St Xaviers’ College is nothing but magical. However,  magic is not easy. It took a lot of patience, perseverance and strategising to achieve the result. And, that’s exactly what Shamim excelled in.

“I always wanted to be a businessman. The apparel industry appealed to me as it was my family business. But I didn’t want to venture into the women’s ethnic wear industry. Men’s ethnic wear was where I wanted to make a mark. So, my goal was set. And the strategy that I chose to launch Sultan Kurtas gave my business the right push,” reminisces Shamim.

With a capital of rupees of only five lakhs, he chose to invest in the ethnic wear industry. “We started very small, in 2001. And till lockdown happened, I could have been spotted hawking for Sultan Kurtas outside our shop at Zakaria Street (Rabindra Sarani). My job was to reach out to the maximum customers and I had no qualms selling my products on the streets of Kolkata,” he says.

Did he ever think that the Sultan could compete with Manyavar?

“Well, the clientele of Manyavar and Sultan is different. They cater to the rich and we cater to the needs of the middle class. So, we didn’t face much competition. The price range from where Manyavar begins its range is the price for the most expensive range of apparel we have on offer,” the MD gave an honest reply.

He adds, “See, we have one vision – offer the best quality apparel at an affordable price. And that has managed to create a mark for our brand.”

Also, the fact that two-decades later when the business has not just expanded in Bengal, but across India and even beyond the borders.

“As far as production of Kurta is concerned, Sultan is the largest kurta producer in the Indian subcontinent,” he proudly mentioned.

Any specific reason to choose kurtas? “I have a liking for sherwanis and kurtas. And they are pretty expensive. I knew that there was a market for it and all that needed to be done was to make them affordable. And that’s exactly what I did.”

“Bengal is culturally rich and men here like to wear kurtas, irrespective of one’s religion. And it’s love for ethnic wear and value for money that made Sultan become the King of Kurtas. So, let me be very clear, it’s not just in Ramadan that our sales witness a peak but also during the Pujas,” Shamim points out.

As the brand grew, Sultan also began to sell Sherwani and four other items together for just Rs 863. It was another hot cake offered by the King of Kurtas after its Rs 99 kurta offer.

Sultan’s success also lies in its appealing and maverick advertisements, which got ideated by the Xavierian itself.

Sultan Kurta Arshad Shamim ethnic wear apparel fashion
One of the viral advertisements by the Sultan

Shamim’s strength lies in the fact that even after tasting success, he has remained grounded and works as hard even today. He recalls an incident soon after he had purchased a Mercedes Benz car.

“Once I was hawking near our old shop in Zakaria Street when I spotted a man observing me from a distance. I initially took him to be a thief and kept my eye on him as I sold my goods. A few hours later, the man came up to me and asked if I had a brother, who drove a Mercedes. I shocked him by saying that both people are the same, and it is me who drives the expensive car as well.”

Today Sultan has at least fourteen showrooms across Kolkata. Still, it doesn’t make Shamim take a break. Even till date, the main dealing, negotiations, and product handling is done by him.

This sense of humility still exists in the man, who set up a brand that in these two-and-a-half decades has become a name to reckon with when it comes to ethnic wear for men. During Ramadan, he breaks his fast with his colleagues in his office premises. He doesn’t forget to offer his tiffin to those sitting with him.

The 52-year-old man who has witnessed several shades of life, adds, “I will look after the business for three more years, thereafter, I would like to give society back. I will work in the education sector and will ensure that at least where I reside, in that area, no child sleeps hungry.”

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One Comment

  1. Not only a kurta but alsi sultan offers in Rs 999 a sjaa sajaya Dulha as well
    Really sultan the king of kurta and the name is enough

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