For lay people, a flag may be a piece of cloth to be unfurled on special occasions. But for Prashant Shah of The Flag Shop at Mahalaxmi, it is a passion that he has converted into a full-fledged business.
"A flag is not just a piece of cloth to be unfurled on a specific date. It represents an entire country, its people, its belief & values," he says. Shah's tryst with flags began one evening in 1996, when he decided to display the Indian flag on his office desk. However, to his dismay, he found that there were no flag manufacturers in India. Since he had a business of textiles, Shah decided to start his own flag shop. And since then, he has never looked back, and has made his hobby a full-fledged profession.
Today, apart from the Indian flag, The Flag Shop sells flags of over 200 countries including rare ones like Aruba, Gabos, Abkhazia, Åland Islands (an autonomous province of Finland), American Samoa, Cayman Islands, Faroe Islands (a self-governing country in the kingdom of Denmark), French Polynesia, Gibraltar, Guam,Bahamas, Laos, Gabon are amongst many other countries.
Besides manufacturing flags of all countries, he also manufactures personalized flags, company logo flags, religious flags & sports flags.
His clients include corporate offices, airlines, consulates, exporters, importers, schools, hotels, banks, the police & individuals. Shah makes polyester national flags, religious flags, miniature flags, group flags, custom-made flags & logo flag base (stand), apart from lapel pins & badges. The flags are priced Rs. 50.00 onwards & come in stands of wood, steel, brass & plastic.
Shah informs that the flags are printed in 100% silk polyester & knitted/woven polyester materials in various sizes. These flags are meant for indoor display like on office desks & homes; the bigger sizes are for outdoor use. The enterprising flag enthusiast also gives a note on flag etiquette alongwith the flag, which states the correct way to display the flag.
"Globalization has changed things. Dignitaries of different nations come regularly to India so organizations & corporates need flags for conferences, sports meets & other functions. Instead of welcoming delegates with bouquets, just gifting a flag or keeping the flag of their country really impresses them. Flags of their own country touch their heart in a special way," says Shah.
Shah's sons, too, help him in the business. "Recently, we made a flag of South Africa which was 18 metres by 27 metres. It's the biggest flag we have ever made so far," gushes his son Gyan.
Thousands of kilometers away from Germany where the FIFA World Cup is being staged, Mr. Prashant Shah sits cozily in his office cabin on the second floor of Laxmi Woolen Mill in Mahalaxmi, Central Mumbai, keeping his fingers crossed. Unlike many a pretentious Mumbaikar, Mr. Shah is not a die-hard soccer fan, nor does it matter whether 'cup favourites' Brazil win or lose. The 'Cup Of Life' is only a flogged horse that brings a little business to his shop. Mr. Shah, CEO, The Flag Corporation, is probably one of the few individuals who makes some money from the World Cup. Entities such as corporate sponsors, advertising agencies & punters see huge benefits from the event. The Flag Corporation claims to be the country's only professionally managed flag 245 countries (islands, federal states & territories included). "The World Cup is one good time when we get business. This time round, we baggedorders from several five-star hotels, clubs & pubs,"said Mr. Shah. Flags of Brazil, Argentina, England & Germany are the best sellers. CORPORATE CONNECTION
The country's corporate giants have begun relying increasingly on flags, insignias& logos to gain & retain their identity. This trend has helped The Flag Corporation to bolster its sales figures. Several companies have begun approaching us for flags & insignias. Having a flag atop their offices & inside their impressive lobbies makes them more presentable & brings them inside a status bracket," Mr. Shah said. The Flag Corp. has a corporate clientele of over 150 companies. "However monopolistic this business is, it is difficult to net large profits. Orders for flags are usually in small numbers."
"A flag is not just a piece of cloth to be unfurled on a given date. A flag represents an entire country, it's people, it's beliefs & values," says Mr. Prashant Shah of The Flag Corporation at Mahalaxmi. A commerce graduate, Shah started his career as a textile dealer, moving on to a business manufacturing moulding tubes & from there on to a business distributing irrigation systems. "I really liked some miniature flags at my friend's office. But when I tried to obtain them here, I could not find any as they were imported ones & priced at over Rs.350. Being an entrepreneur & having a background in textiles, I worked out the costing & found that it could be made at a much cheaper rate. And with no one else doing this, I found the idea rather exciting.” Shah, along with wife Dipti, a fashion designer, began making flags in 1997, after over a year of exhaustive research on flags of all the countries. Today, Shah’s clients include corporate offices, importers & exporters, schools, hotels, banks & individuals. Shah makes polyester national flags, car flags, sports flags, religious flags, miniature flags, group flags, custom-made flags & logo flags, bases (stands) & badges. This flag enthusiast also includes a note on flag etiquette stating the correct display of the flag. The flag should occupy a position of honour & be distinctly displayed. Shah himself has flags of over 200 countries, including Aruba, Gabon, Iceland, Bahamas, Laos, Macedonia & many others. He has a huge stock, alphabetically arranged in his store. The largest flag he made was for Larsen & Toubro sized six- by-nine feet for their hi-tech park. About the challenges in the field, he says that the flag market is not huge. "Also, people are ignorant about the tri-colour; Surprisingly, I have received calls to find out whether saffron or green should be displayed on top," he laments. Shah also supplies flags to gift shops as well as shops in certain hotels. The entrepreneur has recently started making embroidered badges, decorative zardozi badges & also flags with company logos, event logos & fun flags with cartoon characters for kids. "After Mr. Naveen Jindal won the court case that allows Indian citizens to hoist our flag, things have changed & people are beginning to show interest in buying flags. Besides, globalization has changed things & instead of welcoming foreign delegates with bouquets, keeping the flag of the visiting delegates country really impresses them. Flags touches are hearts in a special way. The Tiranga is not just our flag, but is the soul of India's diverse culture," Shah sums up.
What do you call a store that sells flags? Very simply, The Flag Shop.
Prashant Shah's 'The Flag Shop' stocks & sells flags of over 242 countries. The store is located in Mahalaxmi, and certainly ranks as one of the more unusual stores in this city.
Says Shah, "I opened this store in 1996, but it is only since the past year that I am concentrating fully on this business. Earlier, it was more of a recreational business."
Shah decided it was time to manufacture quality flags in India when, years ago, he was looking out for a flag for his office. "I could not find Indian flags of good quality. When I did find them, they were all from the UK or US."
Shah, who was a textile dealer till the Datta Samant mill strike forced him to start manufacturing moulding tubes & cones, moved into the business of distributing irrigation systems. However, a fire consumed that enterprise & finally, flags are what his sole business is now.
He says, "I have miniature Indian flags from Rs. 49.00 to Rs. 130.00. All these cloth flags are of very good quality. But unfortunately because of the Re. 1 & Rs. 2 paper flags that we see being sold on the roads, customers think I am cheating them."
Shah's customers are mainly corporates & he says, "US flags sell the most after India's." He has flags for countries as esoteric as, Lesotho or Macedonia & says,"Foreign delegations do ask for flags when they are here."
Had Prashant Shah not decided to display the Indian flag on his office desk, The Flag Corporation may never have come into being.
Tucked away in Laxmi Mills near Famous Studios, Mahalaxmi, this is the only shop in the country that sells flags of over 200 countries. "While scouting for a quality miniature flag to display on my desk, I found that the good ones had to be bought from abroad, that too at exorbitant prices. That's when I decided to make them," says Shah.
With a business in textiles & plastics since 1972, Shah had the expertise to launch a flag shop. The store started in 1997 & now caters to a host of corporate clients, hotels & consulates.
The flags are printed on exclusive silk polyester fabrics & given finishing touches by a qualified & experienced team. Miniature flags are priced between Rs. 50 & Rs. 100 & the bigger ones between Rs. 300 & 700. Even flags of not so prominent countries like Togo are available here. "I thought it would be a good idea to greet foreign delegates with a flag of their countrythan a bouquet or garland," says Shah.
"Americans wear the flag on lapel pins, cuff links & display it in their houses & cars. We only buy flags during Independence Day or Republic Day," is Shah's only grouse.
At any given time, if you land up at The Flag Corporation, you could come across flags of Gabon or Vanuatu, countries that you may have problems identifying or even locating them on a world map. But not so for Mr. Prashant Shah. The50-year old will instantly recognize & identify flags of over 242 countries. Surprised by his general knowledge? Well, he makes a living by making those flags.
The idea of making miniature country flags struck him when he came across one such miniature Indian flag that his friend had purchased from abroad. When he could not find such flags in India, the entrepreneurial instinct came alive & he decided to get into this business. "Being in textiles, I was aware of printing & colour technology. I realized that the cost was lesser compared to the Rs. 350 & Rs. 450 at which the flags were available abroad," says Shah.
With no other flag manufacturers, he found the deal exciting. The actual business got rolling in 1997. Since then he has never looked back. Operating from an office within a Mill Estate in Central Mumbai, his business mainlydepends on corporate clients who regularly require flags of foreign countries. "Instead of welcoming their foreign delegates with bouquets or garlands, gifting them or just keeping their country's flags, considerably impresses & pleases them," says Shah.
"The sale of flags, especially of international countries, picks up during sports events like the FIFA World Cup. Hotels & bars like to woo their foreign clientele by keeping flags of the playing countries on tables," he says.
Besides, there are seasonal events like international conferences organized by trade bodies like the Gem & Jewellery Association of India. And then there are the offbeat high-profile clients like music director Anandji of the Kalyanji-Anandji duo fame. Anandji was considering ways to welcome foreign delegations from about 35 different countries in an unusual way, just when The Flag Corp. mailer landed in his office. He was surprised to receive flags of all the desired countries within 3hours of ordering. "You were Godsend for me. I never expected to find flags of so many countries so fast," Anandji reportedly told Shah.
Though he started his business with flags, he has now diversified to suit market demands. Constant innovations in the field help him to stay ahead. He got into making miniature flags of company logos & even event logos meant to adorn tabletops. For Maharashtra's police department, he has made special dual-flag stands, with a miniature Indian flag on one side & a Maharashtra Police emblem bearing flag on the other side. These flags adorn the tables of top cops. A similar concept has been executed for corporate clients. Of late, he has also expanded to printing big flags as well as making banners.
Clearly, Shah's passion for flag making will help him to march ahead.
Seven years ago when Prashant Shah set out to renovate his office, he decided on a patriotic stance & looked for the tricolour flag to decorate his interiors. To his dismay, he found no manufacturers.
Having seen flags at the homes & offices of his friends & associates, he was bent on getting the same for his own.
The only suppliers were importers who charged between Rs. 300 & Rs. 350 per flag. But the ex-textile dealer found himself hard up after the strike of the mills. Having been in the profession since 1972, he knew how to hold his own when it came to textiles. Therefore he decided to get into flag making."I was a dealer with The Swan Mills, in the saree printing business. Now my business is manufacturing plastic cups & cones, and ofcourse flag making."
His search for the symbolic Indian spirit led him to a burgeoning business. Manufactured from exclusive silk polyester, his factory churns out flags of all countries, be it as obscure as 'Congo.'
"If one is in the flag business, it is only right & fair that all countries are represented. There is absolutely no awareness about the existence of such a business, or even such a concept."
Pricing his products at a reasonable range between Rs. 59 & Rs. 125, he caters to a pretty impressive list of clientele. "The response this year has been pretty good," says Shah. His list of clients includes large corporate bodies like Ceat, hotels like the Oberoi & even the Bombay Stock Exchange. Keeping with the spirit of independence, his sales at this time of the year have relatively boosted, but he hopes that public interest in flags increases, however unusual may it be.
What could be the most unique, valuable & most importantly… any day or any occasion gift? The perfect one would be a flag…. Yes we are talking about the Indian flag. Present someone with a miniature flag & this is one present they won’t ever throw away or recycle.
And the best place to get these flags is 'The Flag Corporation'-the first company of it's kind that makes & sells polyester & silk flags of every country in the world. According to one of the partners Mrs. Dipti Shah, apart fromsatisfying the spirit of patriotism, the flags also serve as subtle decorative art -in your offices or at home. She says, "Flags are an essential symbol that inspires a sense of unity among people, and because of the emotion involved, they can be used on a number of occasions."
The company has introduced authentic, long-lasting miniature flags of all countries (approx. 245 nations to be precise, of which 185 are members of the United Nations, and the rest are non UN members, other territories & islands). These flags are made from high quality polyester & are distinctively laser cut on all sides to prevent fibres from sticking out. They are easily washable & their colours are guaranteed.
"Though we plan to export flags, we are presently concentrating on local demands,” says Mr. Prashant Shah, who looks after the marketing aspects."An awareness has to be created with the common man who believes he is not permitted to keep a miniature flag in his office or home," added Mr. Prashant, speaking about the low demand for national flags in India. The annual sales are meagre, but the recent football fever saw a marginal increase during the month.
The miniature flags are available with chrome / gold plated stands, on which the flags (on a plastic staff) can be placed. You may even buy stands that hold upto 5 or more flags together. Priced at Rs. 50.00 - Rs. 130.00, this certainly makes it the perfect patriotic present.
Dipti Shah has made it her mission to see that every Indian house dons the national flag. Not the kind that hangs from the porch or the floor flag mounted on a pole. What she would like to see is the kind she manufactures, a miniature flag, measuring 4" x 6".
With India celebrating its 50th year of Independence, it seems an appropriate time to introduce this concept. Dipti says, "My husband, Prashant, & I looked everywhere for a miniature flag, but couldn't find one. So we decided to manufacture them. Unlike abroad, especially in the US where patriotism runs high, very few families here own the national flag. I think it's all about patriotism."
Aptly known as 'The Flag Shop', it is the city's only address where you can get miniature flags. Not just the Indian flag, but flags of over 192 countries around the world as well. Bright & colorful, the flags are made from high quality polyester & are laser-cut from all sides to prevent fibres from sticking out or the fabric from fraying.Easily washable, they are machine printed, so the colors are permanent.
The size 4" x 6", is an international size for miniature flags. There are chrome- plated stands as well, where the flags fitted on a black plastic staff can be mounted & can hold up to 5 flags. The staff can be decorated with a fancy spearhead, a gold-plated maple leaf or eagle. With the stand, it measures & each flag has the country it denotes written on the innermost corner. For the group flags, appropriate longer stands where they can be mounted are available.
"Look at the flags available in the market today, they are all paper," says Dipti. She says, "Children simply throw them away. It is important that they learn to value the national flag. This makes an ideal gift. It's small & compact, looks nice on a desk or book shelf & yet has so much meaning attached to it."
The Indian Flag is priced at Rs. 107.00 & is sold with a general guidelines sheet, explaining the correct & incorrect display of the flag as well as how it shouldn't be misused. The other nationalities cost Rs. 65.00 per set. Despite all the efforts, shop owners are reluctant to sell the product.
She says, "I don't see any problem in selling the flag. We have even written to the Home Ministry in Delhi, informing them about our enterprise, but there has been no reply from them as yet."
Incidentally, before they began marketing these flags, the Shahs distributed around 100 of these flags to police officials at various police stations. "We thought that they would display the flags on their desks, but it was not so." Dipti believes that not just children but even educational institutions can benefit from the product. "After all," she says, "it involves learning & schools are the best place to start with." She says, "Besides, it is a long lasting & a life-time product. But nothing would make us happier than to have the flag sold at every outlet in the city, that would really mean that we have achieved something."