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Friday, July 11, 2014

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Kosher clothing retailer open for business

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Samson Talkar, left, and his son, Rishon

The Bible is pretty clear when it comes to setting rules about mixing fabrics: don’t do it. At least not when they’re wool and linen.

The proscription against doing so is found in Deuteronomy 22:11, which states: “Don’t wear a garment of mixtures of wool and linen together.”

For a Torah-observant Jew, wearing a mixed wool and linen suit is akin to eating a pulled pork sandwich. Neither is kosher. More specifically, when it comes to mixing linen and wool, it’s shatnez – prohibited.

Those wishing to comply with the injunction have had to go through a rather laborious process: first they have to find a suit they like at a retail outlet that’s fairly flexible.

Why flexible? Next they take the suit to be checked by an expert, who usually has to unstitch the seam, reach inside and find a sample of the inner lining or padding. Then it’s put under a microscope to determine whether the ostensibly “100 per cent wool” suit includes some hidden linen.

If it does, stitch it back up and return the suit.

It’s clearly not as simple as buying a suit off the rack, but as of earlier this month, shoppers in the GTA have had a different option. Sam’s Kosher Apparel is now open for business with a full line of shatnez-free apparel, including suits, blazers, shirts, ties and belts.

Samson Talkar, the man behind the store, has taken the legwork out of the hunt for a kosher suit. Open one of the blazers or suits in his Centre Street outlet, and there, below the store’s own label, you’ll find another that certifies the garment is shatnez-free.

The Va’ad L’Mishmeres Shatnez Olami, an international certifying authority, provides the certification.

Rabbi Joseph Sayagh, considered the foremost authority in the world on the question of shatnez, has accompanied Talkar on a trip to a factory in Jiangsu province, China. There, he inspected the premises and the manufacturing process to ensure the cloth and final products comply with Jewish law, Talkar said.

Talkar himself travels frequently to China, where he selects fabrics and instructs his Chinese suppliers as to the cut and style of the suits.

Staff in the factory, near the city of Nanjing, know that a single strand of linen in the lining or padding, or even in the thread attaching a button, makes a suit forbidden, Talkar said.

“At the end of the day, the law of shatnez is the same intensity as the law of kosher food,” he said.

While kosher food is generally more costly than non-kosher, Talkar’s clothing line is “absolutely affordable,” he said.

“We make sure all we have is priced low enough for a bachur yeshiva [student]. It’s affordable, even for him.”

Talkar visits Chinese mills, “and I look for the quality of fabric I’m looking for at the prices I’m selling at.”

He chose China because of the costs, and because “the Chinese are very good at manufacturing clothes and copying a job.”

He keeps costs down by pretty much taking care of all aspects of the process, from selecting cloth, attending to the factory to ensure things run smoothly, importing the product and advertising through social media.

“I don’t have a middleman,” said Talkar. “That’s where the savings come from.”

Talkar relies on a lifetime in the clothing business to give him the skills and knowledge necessary to make it run smoothly.

A native of Mumbai, India, Talkar comes from a family with a long history in the city’s garment industry.

His grandfather was in the weaving business. “We always had a tradition of fabric,” he said. “India has a rich history of fabric manufacturing, dying and stitching.”

For many years, Talkar, 49, worked for Charming Shoppes, a large American clothing manufacturer. His specialty was in manufacturing and quality control, and his job took him to numerous Asian locations.

Prior to the Internet era – and without the benefit even of the Yellow Pages – he wore out a lot of shoe leather visiting factories, looking for new suppliers “that manufactured at the quality needed.”

His fluency in nine or 10 separate dialects allowed him to pass easily into countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal.

His work also took him to Kenya, Turkey and Egypt. While working in Cairo, he was asked to handle the company’s business in Israel as well.

“You feel like Moses going through the Sinai Desert and coming to Israel proper,” he said of his bus trips to the Jewish state. “You get hooked when you go to Israel.”

In 1995, he and his family made aliyah. They lived in Netanya until 2008, but when his firstborn son, Rishon, left to study in North America at age 16, Talkar decided to make the move as well.

He found the extensive travel kept him away from his family too much.

He worked for a time for Canada Goose when he came up with the idea of his own boutique retail business.

“It was more of a vision or understanding that there is something I can do and ease people’s lives,” he said.

Since opening the store and publicizing it online, Talkar has fielded calls from across Canada and the United States. “It became very interesting to a lot of people,” he said.

Rishon, who is studying marketing, has publicized the business through social media. Talkar sold his first suit to a woman who’d heard of him through a website for the local frum community.

With the store up and running, Talkar has set two goals: make the store self-sufficient and perhaps becoming a supplier to a retailer serving the U.S. Orthodox community.

After all, the product line “makes it easier for all Jewish people,” he said.

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