Parmar’s Footwear Fashions Ltd has been around since Queen Elizabeth II’s first visit in 1953.
However, the Parmar family was engaged in shoemaking long before that.
Managing Director of Parmar’s Footwear Fashions, Ishwarlal Parmar, said his father, Govind Bhai Parmar, set up a shoe repair shop in Ba in 1934 – in partnership with his brothers after returning from India.
“Later they decided to go their separate ways and go their separate ways, so my dad decided to move to Lautoka,” the 82-year-old said.
“We stayed there for a while and I think in 1944 we moved to Suva.
“In Suva my dad started a small shoe repair business and because it was in the middle of WW2 a lot of warships would stop at the anchored Suva wharf for my dad to pedal his bike to ships and earns a living by repairing their shoes or transporting goods.
Mr Parmar said his father ran a shop in partnership with a friend.
Govind Bhai Parmar was fixing shoes while his friend was swapping clothes.
“After my father’s brothers returned from India, he separated from his friend and joined his siblings.”
He said the Parmar brothers established their business in the building currently occupied by Rups Big Bear.
“This building was still under construction at that time and they were its first tenants.
“They started 100% with shoes because that was their job: shoemaking.
“The partnership of the Parmar brothers continued until 1953, when my father left his brothers and ventured out on his own.
“They were in the same profession but ran separate businesses still in Mark St.”
He said his father financed his own shop with his savings and his brothers’ participation.
“And at that time it was just shoe repairs, so funding was only needed to buy materials like leather, sewing thread and other materials.
“In 1970 I joined my father, before that I worked for other people.”
He said that immediately after joining his father’s business, he traveled overseas to stock up and buy goods.
“Then we opened other branches, one next to Gokals Fiji, one in Cumming St, one in Nina St and another in Lautoka.
“All these branches were managed by my brothers, my role was to take care of imports and stock.”
The business was running well until 1987.
“Following the military coup, my brothers decided to leave the country and we were forced to close the other branches.
“At present, the Lautoka Shop continues to operate but operates independently of us.”
He said one of their biggest challenges was sourcing overseas.
“It is important to travel to other countries and get in touch with suppliers.
“Initially I started buying shoes from wholesalers in Australia and New Zealand and over the years and with the experience gained I started to travel to China, Taiwan and other country to supply me.
He said the knowledge and techniques acquired over the years have enabled them to survive the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We also faced other major challenges in the past, like in the first coup, we suffered losses because stores were robbed and robbed and at that time we had hardship. Struggling to get our claims with the insurance companies as it was their first experience. ”
Mr Parmar said he had learned a lot about following international trends during his travels and had renovated his shop to reflect this.
“Once I started traveling, I learned a lot and brought that style here.
“Before, shoes were kept in display cases, which bothered us because we had to open them every time customers wanted to see something.
“After visiting Singapore, I had shoe racks and customers liked it because they could just come and try the shoes for themselves.”
Ishwarlal Parmar is considered and respected as one of Suva’s oldest businessmen.
He said his only advice to young people and newcomers was ‘don’t take shortcuts, there are no shortcuts to success’.
“There is no shortcut to hard work.
“If you are determined, you can do it.
“There was a time when we were in trouble.
“We saw the poverty, there were times when we didn’t have money for food and that’s one of the reasons why I was forced to leave school, but we managed to navigate only through hard work.
“My father was a great inspiration and I always try to follow in his footsteps.”