Refugees stitch together new lives creating uniforms for first responders in B.C. and beyond

refugees stitch together new lives creating uniforms for first responders in b.c. and beyond

Vancouver Fire and Rescue services training officer Wade Tabata is fitted for a uniform at Claymore Custom Clothiers Wednesday, September 21, 2022. Uniforms for first responder from across Canada are made by hand by a workforce that come from around the world.

Inside the 60-year-old tailoring shop on East Pender, it looks like a mini-United Nations.

Tailors, seamstresses, administration staff, even the owner of Claymore Clothes were all-but-one born elsewhere, many of them arriving in Canada as refugees.

But Farid Rohani has a better analogy than the UN to describe his staff’s makeup.

“To me, it’s a representation of what Canada means, of its diversity,” the shop owner said.

Rohani, whose family left Iran for Canada when he was a young boy, has a long record of promoting diversity and inclusion, earning multicultural commendations, serving as Vancouver chair for the Institute for Canadian Citizenship and leading the first hosting of a citizenship ceremony at a First Nation community.

He knew nothing of tailoring when he bought the struggling company in August of 2020, and thus saved a couple of dozen jobs and the company from bankruptcy, he said.

The shop is full of sewing machines, printers and other industrial apparatuses that look like they have been there since the plant opened in 1962.

At least every three months, staff bring in food dishes from their homelands: Vietnam, China, Iran, Armenia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Sri Lanka.

“We went to the ethnic communities and we’ve been very, very successful in bringing people in from all ethnic backgrounds,” Rohani said.

refugees stitch together new lives creating uniforms for first responders in b.c. and beyond

Behrouz Azizkhani, left, and Farid Rohani of Claymore Custom Clothiers with a Blood Tribe chief of police jacket that is being shipped to Manitoba. Uniforms for first responder from across Canada are made by hand by a workforce that come from around the world at Claymore in Vancouver, B.C.

The company custom-tailors uniforms for military, police, fire departments, conservation officers and pipe-and-drum bands — any job requiring a uniform, basically — as well as making bespoke dress suits and tuxedos, custom costumes for the film industry, embroidery and printing, alterations, you name it.

A regal-looking red robe with a white, eight-pointed Amalfi cross hangs from a hook, waiting for pickup by the Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem Knights Hospitaller, which offers support to sick people and those struggling financially.

Nearby another coat, this one for the police chief of the Blood Tribe in Alberta, is made from a First Nations blanket with intricate Indigenous embroidery.

Insulated water- and wind-proof jackets, made such that they can be used as blankets themselves, are ready for Legion 177 to pick up and hand out to needy and homeless people.

Crests and badges cover two huge bulletin boards, mementos of uniforms Claymore has supplied, and the place names could cover a big swath of B.C. and Alberta on a road map.

The staff includes a former banker from Iran, and an operations director from Afghanistan who dealt with NATO.

Syrian Mohamad Khayata’s surname actually means “tailor” in Arabic. He and his wife’s fifth child, due soon, will be the first in the family to be born in Canada. Master tailor Iman Shahabi, from Iran, was thrilled by his new-found freedom so much he converted to Christianity.

Rohani takes pride in them all, and they beam when talking about the head guy.

“Farid is not my boss, he is my brother,” said Manar Alabdallah, who is from Syria.

“If Farid wasn’t so nice,” added Sonik Baghomian, originally from Armenia, “none of us would be here.”

Each has a story, none more traumatizing than a woman who had been married off at 14 and arrived in Canada with two teens after her husband had been shot and her brother beheaded in Syria.

“These folks that work here, what is really important is the pride they each take in making a particular part of the uniform, whether it’s the pockets, whether it’s sewing the buttons, whether it’s cutting, or when someone comes in to make a suit,” Rohani said.

And another analogy came to him.

“I look at this diversity as organs of the human body, everyone has a different purpose. If one part stops, the whole body stops functioning.

“That’s what the meaning of diversity really is and that’s how I have put it into practice here. W e all work together for the whole, that’s the way I live my life.”

gordmcintyre@postmedia.com

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