A family heirloom

Navin Vallabh, where he lives with his wife, Hemlata Vallabh inside their tailoring shop in Levuka. Picture: SOPHIE RALULU

For nearly a century now, the Vallabh family in Levuka still preserves an old Victorian sewing machine inside their shop along Beach St in Levuka.

This machine was bought by Ranchhod Vallabh when he opened the family business, Vallabh and Sons in 1924.

His grandson, Navin Vallabh said it was the first sewing machine that his late grandfather bought. He said they had decided to place the old sewing machine at the entrance of the shop for customers to see.

“It is one of the oldest brands of sewing machine, Singer, that was brought by my late grandfather,” the 72-year-old said.

“It’s rusting and old but to us as a family, it’s a reminder everyday of our business’s humble beginnings.

“The same sewing machine was used to make the late prime minister Ratu Kamisese Mara’s school uniforms when he was attending primary education here in Levuka.

“When my late father Vallabh Ranchod took over the business, he used the same sewing machine to make tailor-made suits for high ranking officials who worked under the British administration during the colonial days.

“We now share a bond with Ratu Mara’s children because of the relationship that my late grandfather and father established decades ago, every visit to Levuka they would stop by our shop for a chat.

Mrs Vallabh said all her “sarees” were made using the old sewing machine.

“Even today, I still use it to make clothes for me and my husband.

“We still preserve an old shears and the Victorian sewing machine that has been with the Vallabh for nearly 100 years now.”

Mr Vallabh said while the family had a rich history in terms of their business, there had been no decision made on who will inherit the shop after him.

“This shop has stood some of the most devastating events in Fiji, Cylone Meli in 1979, the first coup in 1987 and the other two coups, Tropical Cyclone Winston in 2016, the COVID-19 pandemic and many other similar events.

“We even witnessed Fiji’s independence on October 10, 1970 – so this shop is the trademark and foundation of the Vallabh family here in Fiji.

“My three children have moved on to greener pastures, my eldest son in Lautoka, my only daughter married to the J Maneklal family in Suva and my other son is an accountant in Brisbane, Australia.

“So, we will have to discuss and have a mutual agreement about who will take over from us.”

According to the family’s records, Ranchhod Vallabh’s family left their home in Navsari in the State of Gujarat, India, and travelled more than 7000 miles to start a new life in Fiji.

They settled at Beach St, Levuka, the then capital of Fiji, and opened a tailoring shop Vallabh and Sons in 1924.

Ranchhod Vallabh’s son, Vallabh Ranchod, inherited the business and kept it going until he died on October, 2010 at the age of 96. Vallabh Ranchod had seven children, two were born in India and five in Fiji. He was married to Parwati Ben.

His eldest son, Raman Vallabh, owns Raman Studio in Labasa. He is 85 years old. Vallabh and Sons is now managed by Vallabh Ranchod’s son, Navin, where he lives with his wife, Hemlata, 66.

The couple married in Taveuni in 1973. They have three children and a number of grandchildren. Navin came to Fiji when he was 10.

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