The Bisht: We Start With A Thread
by Amer Al-Hilal
Reprinted from ‘Arab Times’ (April 28, 1992)
The demand for the traditional luxurious Kuwaiti ‘Bisht’ is an ever-continuous one as its appearance is one of elegance and formality. Its color, texture, length and cloth can add dignity and presence to those who wear it. The Bisht is a cloak-like robe that is usually worn by men in formal occasions over the ‘dishdasha’ (robe).
The production of a ‘Bisht’ is not an easy one; it requires machinery or hardware, human resources, textiles and cloth from foreign countries, proper distribution, and so forth. The making of one ‘Bisht’ can take up to a month and a half for quite a number of them are specifically made for customers in order for measurements and style-requirements to be precise according to the buyer.
One of the most pioneering makers of ‘Bishts’ are the Baghli Brothers. Their thriving business, based in a factory, in Subhan, meets the demands for ‘Bisht’ orders, especially for Kuwaitis who don’t want to travel to Syria or Saudi Arabia to get one. Their large, but privately located, factory contains the necessary equipment for the creation of ‘Bishts’ and is maintained by a family and their crew of over a dozen specialists. They are an example of how a pioneering business spirit in Kuwait can turn into a success story.
They are not agents or representatives of foreign companies. Their business, based on hard work traditions, is totally local.
“We begin with a thread,” AbdelRasul Al-Baghli said, adding” and eventually work up the whole robe.” This was proven by the introduction of some long, wooden sticks which were placed in a noisy machine that rotated the places of wood-it was a continuous method that eventually helped surround the wooden sticks with threads.
Once the threads were tied around the wood, they were then placed in a large, weaving machine that helped sew all the thin threads together. Another machine takes those thin threads and produces a full-length cloth, which later will be toned, cleaned or polished, in a private room.
The golden linings-threads that descend from the neck-line of the ‘Bisht’ to its bottom are extremely important and could mean the difference between an excellent ‘Bisht’ and one that is inferior.
“We have two kinds of threads, the golden, silky ones, and the metallic-tinted ones. The difference is clear when one sees them,” explained Al-Baghli, who prefers to order his silk threads from countries such as France and China.
One kilo of Chinese silk threads can cost KD 300 but has a fluffy, silky quality to it and has excellent texture.
The golden linings have to be manually sown in and adjusted, Al-Baghli said, noting that “the difference between us, and for example, the Syrian method of doing ‘Bishts’ is that we have more time and effort to them”.
They might produce two lines in order to form the golden lineage of the ‘Bisht’. We produce up to 10 threads per lineage, explained Al-Baghli, adding that his method of producing ‘Bishts’ is more meticulous and his results more productive.
“The Syrian ‘Bisht’ has shorter lifespan than Kuwaiti or Gulf one. The Gulf ones can be worn by future generations, if their quality is good,” he elaborated. Al-Baghli pointed out that his prices are reasonable and are based on quality of the thread-cloth and not on deceit or cheating. “You get your money’s worth, whatever you order, whether you chose KD 30 or KD 2000 material. The choice is up to the customer.”
Asked about his facilities in Kuwait, Al-Baghli said that they had everything they needed for successful making and distribution of their robes. “We also have the ability to produce most of our own spare parts locally. In the past, we had to order them from outside. There are approximately 50 kinds of spare parts needed for the machinery to work efficiently,” said Al-Baghli.
As far as the types of robes concerned, Al-Baghli added that there are three different kinds of ‘Bishts’: summer, spring, and winter ones. The robes all come in different shades or colours.
In the spring the ivory-coloured ‘Bisht’ is also the norm.
‘We produce the summer and winter ones, of course, depending on the styles…… for example, we cater to many people from the Gulf, in countries like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar-all their styles, looks and texture of their ‘Bishts’ differ, therefore, we have to produce the ‘Bishts’ according to their local specifications,” the Kuwaiti Bisht maker said.
“During the invasion, we paid a guard to take care of our factory, and it worked. But when ‘Desert Storm’ began, many Iraqis tried to get into the factory because of the panic or chaos,” said Al-Baghli.
Most of his equipment, some dating back to 1980, was saved but their main shop, next to the Kuwaiti souk, was ransacked, “However, because of the vandalism, demand for our work even surpasses those of pre-invasion of Kuwait,” he added.
Al-Baghli also stated that due to the coming national assembly elections, many are buying and distributing large number of the formal robes as “presents.”
Since, the ‘Bisht’ is regarded as an expensive but worth-while investment; it isn’t surprising that there is a thriving market for it in Kuwait.
The Baghli Brothers’ ‘Bisht’ business is a good example of effective, productive, and honest entrepreneurship n Kuwait.