Our monthly Immigrant Entrepreneurship Newsletter features some of the incredible immigrant entrepreneurs in Alberta that we work with, like Esmat Bayat and his business Art Sewing and Tailoring Inc. We spoke with Esmat about his journey and experience as an immigrant entrepreneur in Alberta.
What is your background?
My family (myself, my wife, and 4 children) arrived in Canada in April 2017 as Refugees from Afghanistan via Turkey. While I am a trained accountant, my true passion is to design and sew garments and fashionable attire. I did this for a living back home. I was a well-respected tailor with a successful shop, in Turkey, where I catered to wealthy and sometimes famous clientele, making costumes, clothing, footwear, and other leather products.
Tell us about your business and what it does.
I opened a Tailor Shop called “Art Sewing and Tailoring INC.” in August 2018. Here, I sew clothing and accessories, and tailor garments and make alterations for people from my home community, as well as for people from the business community in downtown Red Deer. I also alter garments from a local men’s high-end clothing shop. You can find me on the main floor, at 4816 50 Ave, Red Deer, AB T4N 3A4. I am open Monday through Saturday, 9am to 5pm. It’s in the heart of downtown Red Deer.
What motivated you to start your own business?
I realized that I wanted to open a business like the one I had back home, rather than work for someone else. I had tried this and did not like it. I asked a lot of questions and looked at the different places that already provided tailoring in Red Deer. I had worked for a place that provided these services, and felt that they charged too much money for the work that was being done. I realized that if I wanted to be successful as a tailor, I would have to open my own shop, and make sure that I offered fair pricing.
I did my research, and more importantly, I found people who would assist with advancing my idea. I had help from staff at Catholic Social Service Immigration and Settlement in Red Deer –they believed in me and helped me network with people who could provide rental space at a decent price, interpret for me at City Hall, and through negotiations with the bank and the rental space. They helped me connect with Business Link and Community Futures for help developing a business plan and help with other business issues that I had not encountered before. I continue to receive support and assistance even today.
What are you most proud of? What is your biggest success?
I am extremely proud that I was able to open my shop while I also continued to attend ESL classes. I am also proud that I was able to negotiate a deal (through an interpreter) for more than reasonable rent for a main floor space with windows that is in a high traffic area in downtown Red Deer, that, in normal circumstances, would see foot traffic from arts festivals and farmers markets. My shop is highly visible, and people have dropped in out of curiosity when they see my window displays.
What has been your biggest challenge as an immigrant entrepreneur in Alberta?
I know my business, and while I have adequate English skills where I can carry on a conversation, I require help with official paperwork or when responding to more formal situations. There are more rules and regulations than I am used to, and while I have been blessed to have found people who are supportive and help me, I am sometimes still intimidated with the processes that I have to complete in order to access some programs and opportunities.
What has been your biggest challenge in light of COVID-19? How have you had to pivot your business?
As I said earlier, my business is in the heart of downtown Red Deer. I had a lot of foot traffic, where business people who would drop their clothes off for tailoring, or performers who needed costumes to be designed for a theater project that they were working on, or clothing stores dropping off clothing for alteration. I would also design gowns and suits for people from the Afghani community, for weddings, and graduations, and other special occasions. Almost all this business stopped when COVID-19 happened.
I have had to adapt. I soon found that I was concerned about the people in my new country, especially when I heard all the stories of there not being enough Personal Protective Equipment for First Responders and for general citizens. First I started sewing non-medical grade masks for anybody who wanted them – I figured it was the least I could do for a country that has been so good to me and my family. Then I started to research different materials that would provide medical grad protection. I also designed a set of scrubs to be made out of this material.
I am now in the process of applying for a license so that I can expand my business to include making medical devices (masks, gowns, etc.) under the COVID-19 order for these products to be made in Canada.
What has the pandemic taught you about you and/or your business?
I have always been versatile and fair-minded, believed in my skills, and know that there will always be opportunities and people who will help you if you are humble and treat people as you want to be treated. The pandemic has made that even truer today.
Sometimes, people in situations like this forget to be kind, and worry so much that they cannot move out of the fear to greet the other opportunities that may be presenting themselves. I continue to count my blessings, and believe that I will always be taken care of. My faith has helped me through situations and has guided my life.
What advice would you share with other immigrant entrepreneurs in Alberta who want to start or grow their own business?
Don’t be afraid to chase your dreams. Surround yourself with good people who believe in you, and who are willing to help you through the processes that are new to you. Be open to meeting new people and entertain new ideas, and don’t let anyone convince you that you can’t succeed in Alberta.
How has Business Link/our Immigrant Entrepreneur Program helped you? Why did you come to us?
I attended a workshop put on by the CSS Red Deer Immigration and Settlement Employment Program where Business Link presented information about the Immigrant Entrepreneur program. I met with the program representative, and have had his assistance on many occasions, as he, and people he has referred me to have assisted me in understanding the systems and regulations that would have prevented me from being successful if I had not had their assistance.
What’s coming up next for you?
As mentioned earlier, I am expanding my business so that I can manufacture non-medical, and someday medical-grade PPE. I have just recently secured space to start this project once I receive the licensing. I have a goal that I will be manufacturing garments and fashion within the next 5 years.
Anything else you would like to share?
Yes, never underestimate the power of your network, and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you are confused or if you do not understand. Also, try. Try to use your new language on a regular basis, try to fill in forms on your own, and just try to put yourself out there, meeting new people and putting yourself into different situations that you have never experienced before. And don’t be afraid to make a mistake, as I have found that people appreciate you for trying and are even more willing to help you succeed because of it.
Where you can find Art Sewing and Tailoring Inc:
Art Sewing and Tailoring Inc. on Facebook