Abdul Manaf doesn’t have the air of a designer. Listening to Manaf talk business over the phone in a subtle Wayanad accent, were it not for the fact that he’s constantly being asked about it, one doubts he would not often remember that he’s an internationally acclaimed fashion designer.
Manaf accounts it to his humble beginnings: well, certainly the stuff movies are made of. Hailing from a dirt-poor family in Sultan Bathery, Manaf aka Manu and his sister have no memory of their father as their parents divorced when the siblings were still very young.
Following a spine injury that rendered his mother bed-ridden, the struggling family went into the care of his grandmother Beevikutty—an iron-fisted woman, who raised her grandchildren by working as a daily wage laborer at construction sites and households.
As a boy, Manu remembers, he has done several odd jobs to help support the family. The mornings saw him as a newspaper boy; after school hours, he would go around collecting monthly dues for a chit company.
Impressed with his diligence, a relative expressed interest to sponsor him. Manu says he didn’t think twice to apply for an admission at T Johns college, Bangalore for a degree in fashion designing.
Soon, a young Manu migrated to Bangalore with a hundred designs and the brand name 'De Purple' in his mind. However, when the sponsor ran short of money, Manu saw the fag end of his dreams. Manu was in his third semester then. Although the teachers let their favorite student attend their classes, he couldn't attend the exams. But ultimately, Manu had to return home with an unfulfilled graduation dream.
Not ready to quit, Manu returned to Bangalore with a strong will to stand on his own. “At that time, many budding life insurance companies were providing food and vehicle to their employees,” he remembers. “I joined an insurance company just because they provide food twice a day. No house owners were ready to rent out a room to a Muslim. That forced me to adopt my pet name Manu officially.”
During his second stint at Bangalore, Manu ran a number of small businesses, including the sale of second-hand mobile phones and electronic devices. Even then, Manu was always on the lookout for investors for his dream venture ‘De Purple’, but no one was ready to trust the will of a beginner.
However, fortune smiled at him in the guise of an American photographer. It was on his way down to Coimbatore that Manu met Jaina, who was on a deputation in India at Shanti Niketan. Jaina took Manu along as her light boy and thereby, introduced him to the world of photography and fashion.
Before returning to the US, she gave him enough money to complete his fashion designing degree, a two wheeler and Rs 20,000 to kick start his business. Overjoyed, Manu returned to T Johns college and completed his degree. Once he had a valid degree in hand, many expressed their readiness to invest for ‘De Purple’. And thus began his stride to success.
‘De Purple’ has five major clothing outlets in Bangalore, including three retail designer wear shops. It has an own manufacturing unit that weaves vibrant designs that circulate all over Kerala, Middle East and Miami. “I was always confident of my designs. I knew I wouldn't upset my investors. De Purple just wanted a start. And all my struggle was to get that initial spark. I'm so glad to watch De Purple going places,” says an excited Manu.
Unlike other big fashion boutiques, ‘De Purple’ serves as a parent store to many smaller designer brands. “We help smaller boutiques in manufacturing, branding and marketing. When the designers approach us with their designs, we let them select materials of their taste from our manufacturing unit and help them build their place in the industry,” says Manu.
‘De Purple’ also encourages customized clothing, wherein customers can directly approach the factory, select materials, suggest fabric and choose prints. “If XXL is small for you and XXXL too large, we customize our designs to match your size. This provides high customer satisfaction and design acquisition,” says Manu.
The brand specializes in unique African prints, floral designs, harem pants, shirts and boxers. “Rather than my academic knowledge, it was my experiences as a factory worker and marketing personnel that helped me much in the garment industry.”
The 30-year-old is married to Zarah aka Jincy Jose, a Telugu girl, and the couple are now pregnant with their first child. Manu also managed to get his mother an expert spinal surgery, which made her stand up and walk on her own after several years on bed.
Yes, perseverance prevails.