Nearly 50 years after arriving in Edmonds, Shah brothers finding more ways to say ‘thank you’

In January of 1971, Raj Shah was 16 years old when he immigrated to Edmonds from his native Kenya. With an older brother working for Boeing in Everett, Raj moved in with his new host family, Frank and Dorothy Neal in Edmonds, where he enrolled in Edmonds High School. It was a houseful — Raj was joining the mix with host brothers Bill and John and their sister Teri. Raj’s younger brother, Akhil, joined the Neal family a year later when he also turned 16.

“It was very unusual for kids of our age group to be sent outside the country,” says Raj. “But even back in the ’70s, America was the dream—and we saw that dream through reading American comic books. We started bugging our family, and they said, ‘Raj, you go first, and if you like it, Akhil will go, too.’”

Raj arrived with a passion for fashion and an entrepreneurial spirit. He made his first sale of dashikis (a colorful African garment for men and women) to the Edmonds High School bookstore. With confidence from this first successful sale and sell-thru, Raj asked Akhil to join him to launch a new fashion apparel business.

“It was a great adventure having Raj and Akhil live with us,” Teri Neal says. “They introduced me to a bigger world. I even stayed with their family in Kenya for a summer and eventually lived abroad for seven years. They still feel like family”.

With the combination of two supportive families (one in Kenya and their adopted family in Edmonds), and an insatiable interest in business, the stage was set for the brothers to become a new international fashion player.

Raj and Akhil Shah founded Shah Safari, Inc. in 1975 to provide trend-setting apparel for young men. In 1982, Raj and Akhil — along with their late partner Mike Alesko — launched another fashion company, International News, Inc.  In 1985, the partners opened the ZebraClub store in downtown Seattle at the corner of 1st and Stewart, just above Pike Place Market. ZebraClub was opened as a “laboratory” for fashion brands to test out new designs and concepts for young men and women’s clothing — and drew top fashion executives from all over the world to check out the innovative retail concept.

The brothers established international offices in Bombay (Mumbai), London, Hong Kong, Nairobi, Nepal and Bangladesh to support and manage the company’s global growth.  At one point in the late ’80s, the Shah Safari brand enjoyed nearly 25% of the market share for young men’s woven tops in the U.S.

In the late ’90s, the brothers launched Mecca USA, which spearheaded the original urban hip-hop fashion movement. Today’s active clothing brands include: Road Apparel, Punch, Reactor, Raw Edge, A. Tiziano, Ably and Americaware.

Akhil and Raj Shah

For the past 15 years, the Quest division of Shah Safari has been one of the largest manufacturers and distributors of personal protective equipment apparel to the medical/hospital industry in the U.S. The manufacturing facility is FDA registered. Shah Safari recently donated thousands of re-usable masks to United Way of King County, which were distributed to over 25 charitable organizations.  Masks were also donated to United Way of Snohomish County.

Fast forward to 2020. Raj and Akhil have built a company that reflects their values of investing in their people and the community. “Our dad used to say, ‘The value of your name will be worth more than any asset you’ll ever acquire,’” says Raj. Inspired by the success of their own venture at such a young age, Raj and Akhil created a venture fund 30 years ago to support start-up companies.

The Shah brothers have been recognized by the World Bank as well as the governments of India, Nepal and Bangladesh for their work in helping to build the apparel manufacturing sectors into billion-dollar export industries. They have also been the recipients of various national and international awards, including the Northwest Entrepreneur of Year sponsored by Ernst & Young.

Raj and Akhil were the principal donors that helped finance the creation of the Counter Balance Park/An Urban Oasis located at the corner of Queen Anne Avenue and Roy Street in Seattle. In addition to their business ventures, the Shahs have contributed to causes that support peaceful and healthy communities locally and internationally.

Raj and Akhil diversified into real estate development and have built several multi-family residential buildings over the years.

The brothers’ passion for the fashion industry has not waned over the years. They recently introduced an award- winning technology called Filium to the textile and apparel worlds. Natural fabrics such as cotton that are activated with Filium creates high-performance and eco-friendly fabrics that shed liquids, resist staining and odors, and require less laundering. Brands such as Ably Apparel and Zenkai Sports Apparel have adopted Filium technology.

Raj and Akhil Shah will be hosting a pop-up store in Edmonds, with proceeds benefiting the Edmonds Waterfront Center.

Over the years, Raj and Akhil have stayed in touch with the Neal family. “We have always wanted to find additional and meaningful ways to say thank you to the Neal family” said Akhil. At an event hosted by Rick Steves last November, Raj and his wife Dilu were introduced to the Edmonds Waterfront Center project, now under construction on the Edmonds waterfront. They were inspired by the commitment of project management to building a green building and creating a multigenerational gathering place to learn and celebrate.

Raj, Akhil and their families have just announced a gift of $50,000 to the Waterfront Center Capital Campaign. The Shah family gift will be acknowledged with naming of a room in the new Waterfront Center. The inscription will read, “In recognition of the generous contributions made by Raj & Akhil Shah and their Families as a thank you to the Neal Family for their Love, Kindness and Support”.

In addition, the Shah brothers have offered to host a pop-up store for the month of September in Edmonds as well as online sales of curated clothing items to raise additional funds for the project, which is replacing the former Edmonds Senior Center building at 220 Railroad Ave. Online sales will also be included for the fundraising effort — visit the link here.

The pop-up store will hold a soft opening Thursday, Sept. 17 at 186 Sunset Ave., in Edmonds’ Salish Crossing, from 11 a.m.-6:30 p.m.  The store will be open Friday-Sunday, Sept. 18-20, closed Monday and Tuesday, then follow a Wednesday-Sunday schedule through Oct. 18.

— Story and photos provided by the Shah brothers and the Edmonds Waterfront Center

  1. Wow! How did Edmonds get so lucky to have Raj and Akhil part of our community? Prime examples of great families raising indivduals contribute to their community as well as their world. I will certainly contribute by buying from their pop up store.

  2. What is their web site for on-line sales? (Did I miss it?). This is a great story and I look forward to shopping at either the “pop up” or on-line.

  3. This is the real Edmonds stories I believe. Prejudice? Only a very Very few. Edmonds has always had people that see people first, skin color last.. Love these true stories..

  4. What a great story about cultural exchange, family love and support and the value of a diverse and open minded society being a very good thing.

    Many people do not realize the drive and determination that lots of our immigrant workers have to succeed among us. Many of my late wife’s caregivers were originally from Kenya, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. They are some of the hardest working, brilliant and kind people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. They willingly and cheerfully do the jobs most of “us” won’t.

    One lady from Kenya worked three jobs in the elder care industry and sent several thousand dollars back home each month to support her mother and her children there. Another lady has started several adult family homes and now owns the one in Edmonds where my wife and I stayed during her illness. This lady literally saved my life by helping me understand and deal with my wife’s Lewy Body Dementia; that nearly tore our marriage apart at one point. I love these women like sisters.

    I know I went a little off subject here but I think it all has relevance. While many of us debate the fine points of ideology and who’s violence is righteous and who’s isn’t and what groups belong here and which ones really don’t, militia vs. antifa and on and on, real people with real life goals and goodness make things work. That’s what it’s all about for me.

  5. Thank you a thousand times for restoring my faith in humanity! What a great story when my thoughts about my country have been dark.

  6. More proof that the lie of institutional racism is a utter and complete myth, created solely so the left can guilt themselves to the grave…..god bless you guys, and I hope the pop up is a huge success!!! Just goes to show that a lot of hard work means more than anything, including crying about yoru lack of personal success “at the hands of others”.

  7. The myth of the ‘self made man’ (which already is problematic since the very existence of someone comes through a woman, let alone all of the support and input from women along the way.) is one of the most pervasive illusions out there. No one’s success is purely ‘self made’. None of it exists in a vacuum.
    A. they learned, from others, whether school, books, witnessing someone’s behavior or success whatever, but others were involved in their learning. Are they responsible for what they did with that learning? to some degree yes, but without that, nothing happens.
    B. anything they used wasn’t solely created by them. Someone else made clothes, roads, systems for or against them, and structures that they benefitted from. The food they ate, the inventions they used, ALL of which were part and parcel of the eventual success. No one exists in a vacuum of the impact of others actions.
    C. There is ALSO and entire volume of factors that contributed their success, what was going on in the world, what was or wasn’t present, even the healthcare they received that may have kept them alive.

    Bottom line, the claim of ‘self made’ and the subsequent mythology about the journey of overcoming trials and tribulations is a sop to the ego in many cases. We are a collective consequence. For good or ill. And so…is our success. Did we have a part to play? yes, undoubtedly.

    I love the philosophy of Ubuntu on this one….”I am because We are”

  8. Great story of success and giving back to our community in such a big way. Love reading about people living the American Dream! Really inspiring.

  9. Anecdotes of the successful brothers with golden hearts, is worth depicting in a wide screen. Indeed you both have proved how important it is to become ‘men of value than men of success’. You both have lived up to your dear father’s words of wisdom.
    Our association with you and family is over 40 years now and we have imbibed so many good virtues from the Shahs. Charity done at the needing times is the biggest service to Lord of the Lords. May Almighty keep you all happy, prosperous and worthy of this mankind. Bless you.

  10. Great story and obviously both of you are self made men. Many people have the dreams of becoming successful but having the drive to follow through with your Dreams is rare. Your parents must have played a large role. Congratulations on your great success . I’m sure many more to come.

  11. WoW! What a road to success you’ve traveled Akhil. I still remember you, the vivacious young man I met at a party in the seventies. You had an awesome, hip shag haircut and dressed smartly too back then. Met up a few times after that when I visited you at your family shop in Pioneer Square. You always had the biggest, brightest smile. Now nearly 50 years later you are still shining. Carol Wileman

  12. Raj and Akhil –

    What can I say?
    These guys are fabulous. Brilliant, witty and smart as they come. But they also house a wealth of empathy for mankind and are always giving back to the community.

    I was a young single mom with and idea that I pitched to them many years ago and they helped me to launch the business and mentored me through the high and lows of the corporate world.

    The are real and wonderful human-beings.

    I am thankful I met them both – Warm thoughts, Paula Collins

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