Mohammed Saleh Al Shamsi, 84, at the National Tailor Stores in Al Ain. The tailoring shop was chosen as one of the 15 winners of the recent Urban Treasure Awards by the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Toursim. Image Credit: Gulf News

Al Ain: Mohammed Saleh Al Shamsi is a modest man. He has much to be proud of, having started the National Tailor Stores in Al Ain single-handedly way back in 1967. Having grown to a 42-member establishment today, the iconic shop continues to cater to customers in the UAE, with a strong loyal base.

Not surprisingly, Al Shamsi, who was also the official seamster of the late UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, was honoured by the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism recently for his decades-long excellence as the National Tailor Stores was chosen as one of the 15 winners of the Urban Treasure Awards.

Talking to Gulf News, Al Shamsi said he started sewing when he was 13.

“I did not inherit the profession from anyone, I just had a passion for dressing people up and I had a natural talent for it,” the 84-year-old tailor said.

The landmark National Tailor Stores which was opened in Al Ain in 1967. Image Credit: Gulf News

He recalled how his first tutor was a neighborhood tailor named Mohammed Ali.

Keen learner

“I was a keen learner, I spent my days and nights on the sewing machine – it used to be a manual paddle machine back in the day, and I was always asking for advice to get better,” he said.

Al Shamsi then moved to Dammam in Saudi Arabia to work for the Chamber of Commerce in the 1950s.

He said, “Around that time, some of us would venture out for work opportunities. During the five years I spent there, I opened a tailoring shop. Dammam was a vibrant city where residents cared for fashion. So I was able to hone my skills.”

He said he then moved to Al Khobar for five years where he opened a store that sold readymade clothes and perfumes.

“I stopped sewing during my time in Al Khobar until I was suddenly inspired to leave and return home to Al Ain,” he recounted.

He said in 1966, when he was 22 years old, he took a boat back home to pursue his dream as a professional tailor.

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Humble beginnings

His humble beginnings were at a small shop attached to someone’s home from whom he rented space out.

“The street was all sand and there were no proper roads back then,” he said.

Nonetheless, the city’s residents would flock to the store as word had spread about his meticulous work.

“There were no professional tailors in the city during that period. Even my tutor Mohammed Ali had passed away by then,” he said.

He claimed that at one point, one of Sheikh Khalifa’s assistants, who was the Ruler’s representative in Al Ain at the time, summoned him to the palace.

“It was the highlight of my career. I became his personal tailor for 18 years.”

He spoke fondly of his time serving the late UAE President.

“I would joke with him saying, I was fairly shorter than him and sometimes found it challenging to take his measurements.”

Cherished memories

As the cherished memories come flooding back, Al Shamsi said he was deeply thankful to the UAE for his growth and success,

Over the years, the National Tailor Stores has expanded from a one-man start-up to a crew of 42 tailors.

“None of my children pursued my professione, but I have an excllent workforce and the shop has been serving generation after generation for decades,” he concluded.