PRUDE INC. Living Library Project (Shezad Shaikh)

Shezad Shaikh

Shezad Shaikh: The changing seasons of his fashion

by Winluck Wong, PRUDE Inc. Living Library Project Coordinator

This article is part of PRUDE, Inc.’s “Living Library” project, featuring Saint John’s newcomers and the diverse stories they bring to the city. It is funded by ONB’s Multicultural Grants Program.

When Shezad Shaikh steps out the door each morning, his fashion choices matter. From Nehru vests to suits with double-link-cuff dress shirts, every colour reflects his mood and his hopes for the day.

Dressing in what’s comfortable

Though Shezad always enjoyed expressing himself through fashion, there was a time when he felt self-conscious about standing out.

After graduating with a business administration degree, he landed his first job at a JPMorgan Chase branch in Mumbai, India. He found himself in a corporate culture where employees conformed to their position’s expected attire.

So, Shezad wearing suits every day at his entry-level station raised a lot of eyebrows. Rather than dressing down, however, he doubled down on his style.

“There is a particular reason why [someone] dresses that way,” Shezad said. “Because they are comfortable in that attire. It is something in their nature that they want to portray by what they wear. Similarly for me, when I wore a suit or a jacket or a blazer, there was something that I was trying to say through my clothing.”

The moment he embraced his own confidence, people began to accept him the way he is. He could finally focus on his job.

Everyone kept telling him how fortunate he was to start his career right in the field he studied for – and at such a prestigious company. But though he was thankful for the opportunities he had, he couldn’t stop thinking about fashion. It’s his family legacy, after all.

After India gained independence in 1947, his grandfather opened up a clothing store. The business then passed to Shezad’s father, who taught Shezad what being an entrepreneur and a family man means.

“I saw him work so hard in this field,” Shezad said. “I saw him – how he respected his father and decided to carry forward his legacy…So, that motivated me.”

When his father started thinking about retirement in 2009, Shezad offered to take care of the family business.

That announcement came as a shock to everyone.

Although the fashion business had been in the family for two generations already, they never expected Shezad to carry it on. He had dreams of being a financial consultant one day and they thought he was already set on that path.

But after two years in the banking industry, Shezad realized it wasn’t the career path for him. “Finance was the love of my life, but I wouldn’t get married to it,” Shezad said.

Fashion, though…that, he was willing to make a lifelong commitment to. And he had the family’s full blessing.

In the business of pivoting

His father patiently mentored him until Shezad was ready to take the reins himself in 2011.

Over the next 10 years, Shezad grew the family’s fashion business. He niched into custom suits for grooms and groomsmen. He opened new stores and developed new marketing strategies. He even weathered the 2016 Indian banknote demonetisation’s impact on the wedding industry. But the next crisis was too much for his business to recover from.

The COVID-19 pandemic shuttered India’s wedding industry as the country went into complete lockdown. Seven months. No customers.

Shezad never imagined he’d be the one shutting down the business his grandfather built. Even so, he didn’t let it get to him. Instead, he turned crisis into opportunity.

“It is at that point of time I kind of realized that it is time for me to upgrade my skills,” Shezad said. “I decided to do an MBA.”

His search for the right Master of Business Administration program eventually led him to University of New Brunswick (UNB). And much like his first career pivot 14 years ago, his family encouraged him to do what he thought was right.

On April 4th this year, he arrived in Saint John. To go back to school.

Waiting, after a fashion

But Shezad couldn’t focus on his studies. He couldn’t shake the doubt whether he’d made the right decision.

All he could think about was how much he missed his wife and son. How he missed his wife’s cooking as he ate dinner alone for the first time in his life. How he missed his son’s laughter as they talked on WhatsApp through tears.

And all his wife could do was reassure him from afar that he’s doing the right thing. “She has been my strength,” Shezad said. “She has been the backbone of the struggle. And I don’t…think that I would have been able to achieve whatever I have achieved in my life until now if it hadn’t been for her.”

His original plan was to finish his MBA and then go straight back to India. But one month in, he immediately applied for his wife and son’s visas. And they were thrilled at the thought of being with one another sooner rather than later – if all goes well with the applications.

The pandemic significantly delayed Canada’s immigration and citizenship applications. Shezad’s study permit took 11 months to process – at least triple the amount of time it usually takes. He’s resigned to wait just as long for his wife and son to be allowed here.

Still, he has their reunion to look forward to now and that has made all the difference. He’s also grateful to UNB’s Business Faculty staff and the local Muslim community for helping him get settled here.

The more he gets to know Saint John, the more he can see him and his family building a new life here. One day, he may even launch a business again. Probably something to do with fashion.

“The whole purpose of fashion is just not only to, you know, reflect honesty,” Shezad said. “But it is also to showcase your knowledge. Showcase your status. Your way of life. And to help someone to achieve that is something that really excites me and motivates me to be in this field.”

Winluck Wong is a freelance writer helping growing companies and organizations tell their story. He writes custom-crafted stories in business, sustainability, personal finance, and productivity. Follow his twips or visit his shop.

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