Mac Duggal, Founder of Creative Imports and Mac Duggal; from an interview with the National Museum of American History, April 8, 2016.
My real name is Manmohan Singh Duggal, but I have always popularly been known as Mac Duggal. I was born in New Delhi, India, in 1960.
My father, Darshan Singh Duggal, was a deputy secretary of finance for the government of India and a renowned published poet in the Urdu language. He was extremely loving and full of humility. He was also a great spiritual leader and took over the role of president of the World Fellowship of Religions. My dear mother, Harbhajan Kaur, was an accomplished singer in the classical Indian tradition. She spoke nine languages and sang in seven. I remember very vividly that whenever my mom would come to my school to pick me up, she always looked very majestic and gorgeous in a colorful sari. People would stop and say, “Who is this magical lady? Who is she?” Everywhere she went she would always spread the warmth of her love.
I come from a very spiritual family, where my grandfather Sant Kirpal Singh Ji, my father Sant Darshan Singh Ji, and my brother, Sant Rajinder Singh Ji, were all the heads of an international spiritual organization that teaches a form of meditation and ethical living to millions of people free of cost. I believe all three of them have played a major role in who I am today. The basics of their teachings are meditation, truthfulness, and vegetarianism. Education, music, and spirituality were a strong ethical base and were the foundations of my home life. Even more important was the love that permeated from my parents, not only within our family, but also to all those wonderful souls who came to visit from all over the world. I met incredible people from all cultures, and my horizons expanded greatly.
Education was my father’s first priority. I remember one day when my father discovered that I did not get the grades he expected, he asked me what I had spent time doing, and I said, “Well I’ve been listening to the songs on the radio.” The next day when I came home from school, I saw the radio sitting outside the house to be given away. When I asked my mother why, she said, “Well, your father loves to listen to the radio for the news and sports, but he thinks it is more important for you to concentrate on your studies, so we will ALL give it up.”
As a young child I studied in Air Force Bal Bharati School in New Delhi, and later on went to study engineering in Bangalore. At the age of 23, I wanted to stay in India to start my own business, but my father thought it was a good idea that I continue my education in America as my older brother, Rajinder Singh, who was settled there had found great success.
When I came to this country I stayed with my brother and my sister-in-law, Rita Bhabi, and their two loving children. I studied at North Central College. Coming to stay in America was a culture shock for me. First I realized how clean and organized America was, and the traffic rules were followed to the T! We came from a middle-class family, but I had a very privileged childhood. Small jobs like cleaning the dishes, vacuuming, taking the trash out, or even making your own bed were chores I’d never done before because we always had household help, but my brother and sister-in-law made it easier for me by always making me feel at home.
After finishing my education, I longed to go back to my country, but I saw a lot of business opportunities here. I had always wanted to be an entrepreneur and work for myself. My brother and I decided on importing women’s evening wear from India. We started the business in my brother’s garage. At the time, beaded gowns made in India were a raging new fashion so we jumped in headfirst. One of my most popular early designs was dubbed “Wish upon a Star,” a tulle ball gown featuring subtle hand-painted stars in the underlining. I would travel to boutiques, department stores, and fashion shows with heavy bags of samples and sold the designs myself, virtually door to door.
I had to do my own designing, manufacturing, selling, packing, and shipping, but I really enjoyed it because I had the drive, and I was just going to give it all I had. One of our first showings was in New York, and by chance one of my former classmates recognized me there. It turned out that she was a buyer for the Home Shopping Network. She loved the product, and the next thing I knew was we were selling on the Home Shopping Network, and the rest is history.
All this success came with challenges. In 1989 when my respected father passed away my brother took over his role as spiritual leader and the responsibility of supporting both families fell to me. When we started in the mid-`80s, the business took off almost immediately, and everything I touched turned into gold. After about a decade with our business soaring, suddenly the fashion changed and the beading I was known for was no longer in style. For the next five years, I had to struggle to keep the business afloat, but I never gave up. I was able to regroup and had to practically start all over again with new strategies. Today it is a daily reminder to me that success should not be taken for granted.
Starting with little money and just ten dresses, our company has transformed into a multimillion-dollar empire that is recognized in over thirty‐two countries all over the world. When we started the business, I was known for my embellishments and my flamboyant styles. People were intrigued by the Indian mystique that I had brought with me. Fashion is a really fast changing industry. It changes before you can blink, and it keeps you on your toes. I needed to work with integrity and a clear vision. The opportunities that came my way were completely life‐changing. Today I look back and I am humbled to say that my designs have been seen on national and international pageant stages. I have dressed hundreds of celebrities on the red carpet, movies, videos, even the Oxygen Network dedicated a whole episode to me.
My observations are that people that succeed in life are fearless and believe in themselves in spite of the odds. I learned this from my father who often quoted the saying that, “Impossible is in the dictionary of fools.”
I practice a religion call Sikhism. Sikhs are known for their bravery. Sikhism believes in one higher power and one higher consciousness and that everyone is equal. This is essentially the same as American values. In Sikhism all men wear a turban, and the women don’t cut their hair, keeping it long. For the Sikhs, the turban means responsibility and promotes equality. It also preserves our Sikh identity. When a boy becomes an adult, somebody respectable from the community ties the turban on their head for the first time. I was really lucky that my own father tied a turban on me.
When I was growing up, arranged marriages were common. For me, my wife‐to‐be, Satwant, who we lovingly call Bubbly, was chosen by my parents, my brother, and sister-in-law. We were taught to first get married and then fall in love. One day my parents called me from India and told me that they had chosen my wife. The next day, I told all my American friends that I had become engaged the night before, and no one could believe it. They said, “We didn’t even know you were dating anyone.” And I told them of course I was not dating anyone, and that my parents had chosen my wife to be. You had to see the sight. Some of them fell down from their chairs laughing as they couldn't believe that I got engaged over the phone to someone I had hardly met. What was a norm in India was completely unheard of here. It's been thirty years, and I’ve been happily married to her and have two beautiful children, Ieena and Yuvraj.
My business was an international business and was very demanding, and I had to travel almost six months out of the year. I was working eighteen hours a day nonstop. When we had children, we had to make choices, so my wife chose to stay home to take care of them. She wanted to dedicate her life to the children to keep them grounded in both cultures. Now that the children are grown my lovely wife wanted to give back to the community and has founded a not-for-profit organization. This organization provides food, transportation, and emotional support to people that are going through a difficult time in their lives. She has been a backbone for me in the journey of my life.
We worked hard to explain the importance of our heritage to our children. So, everything had to be done twice, first explaining in English, then in Hindi. Today, I’m proud to say that both of my children speak fluent Hindi and English, and both of them enjoy Indian and American ways of life. My daughter, Ieena Duggal, is a fashion designer and has her own collection to her name. My mother encouraged her to sing, and Ieena has a bachelor's degree in Indian classical music and has put out an Indian CD. My son, Yuvraj, is studying to be an entrepreneur and has done his bachelor’s in tabla, an Indian style of drumming, but he is also trained in the saxophone, guitar, and piano. Both of them feel proud of their heritage, and we did our best to keep the culture alive and hope that they carry that on to the next generation.
Bubbly and I are so proud when we see that both Ieena and Yuvraj are living according to the values our parents instilled in us. In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina, both our children spearheaded a fund-raiser for the victims to raise money. In 2010, Yuvraj saw the tremendous damage Hurricane Richard had done to the Belize Zoo and collected money to donate to the zoo’s jaguar rehabilitation center. Later on, he was awarded a distinguished service award. They have always been involved in giving back in whatever way they can. There is a quote from my brother that I often think about:
“Rather than share with others a piece of your mind, share the peace of your soul.”
Although I lived here, I did my business here, and I had my children here, I always had this constant longing to go back to India and felt very Indian. The day I really felt American was September 11, 2001, as I shook in fear with the whole country. My country was being attacked, and I was in pain. That was the day I realized that not only I was a part of America, but America was also a part of me.
America is a very unique country, and the whole world looks up to it. America is a magnet; it attracts people from the poorest countries to the richest. The reason being is that a lot of the time in other countries you do things because of social pressure, to impress your friends, or make your parents happy. This country creates a desire in you to bring out the best in yourself. In America you don’t have to follow a set path. Look at me. I went to an engineering school. No one in our family had ever owned their own business, but I got this opportunity here, and I became a successful entrepreneur. I came to America with nothing. How could I even have thought of reaching such heights? I really believe if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. You can dream anywhere, but you can definitely achieve it and realize your dreams here in the United States of America.
My father, Sant Darshan Singh Ji, was known as the 20th-century poet saint of India. I would like to close with one of his couplets, which expresses how I feel:
"What does it matter if I am called a man.
In truth, I am the very soul of love.
The entire Earth is my home, and the universe my country.”
An unedited transcript of this oral history is available for scholarly research through the Archives Center of the National Museum of American History.