Art & Culture - 10/10/18

Grooming the Next Generation of Tailors

Written by Daniel L

Meet Singapore’s Master Tailor Thomas Wong, the teacher behind a rigorous apprenticeship scheme tasked with saving his craft.

Singapore may have no lack of tailor shops, but remove those that operate merely as a storefront, and you’re left with a just handful of ateliers that offer a truly bespoke experience. Chief among them is The Prestigious helmed by Thomas Wong. Determined to save his craft for the next generation, this master tailor has set up an apprentice scheme to encourage millennials to turn their hand to his centuries’ old tradition. Hive Life sat down with him and his protégés to find out what it’s all about.

Thomas Wong’s millennial protégés have taken the unconventional route, trading office jobs for the long hours and backbreaking work associated with being a fine tailor. And they’ve done it to be a part of one of Singapore’s most gruelling apprenticeship schemes. “As a tailor and lecturer at LASALLE College of the Arts, I found it pitiful that most of my graduates, who are passionate about authentic craft, did not have the opportunity to utilise and improve on the skills I have imparted,” explains Thomas. “Today, there are less people, compared to those of my generation, with a true passion to master the craft.”

A quick Google search or look around town backs him up. Most local establishments in Singapore today don’t craft their own commissions, preferring to outsource the work to mass production factories for convenience. So, Thomas decided to give students really passionate to learn somewhere to do it properly. “In order to raise the next generation of master tailors, I saw that it was imperative for me to further develop our commercial and training programs.” The Prestigious prides itself on a bespoke apprenticeship program that spans six years and admits only two candidates annually. Under the tutelage of Thomas and his senior team, apprentices cover every aspect of the craft, with each technique practised over and over again until the pupils reach the highest level of competency possible. Operations and management responsibilities are woven in and upon graduation, apprentices are encouraged to run their own business or be inducted into The Prestigious’ team.

Most prominent among those who have stepped up to the plate is Joyan Chan, a menswear speciality graduate from LASALLE and now Chief Operating Officer of The Prestigious. In eight years, she’s gone from student to employee and now partner. “As a partner, it’s no longer about how I can deliver one beautiful suit, but rather how I can help the entire team to craft out every suit to its exacting standards,” she states.

In learning the technique of tailoring, Joyan has burnt countless weekends, working overtime to be top in her class. Now, she finds herself imparting skills to the next generation. “It is this empathy of having personally walked the same path as juniors under her would, coupled with her ambition to strengthen my brand and commitment to safeguard what I consider sacrosanct, that has let me place my trust in her,” Thomas proudly tells us. Like Joyan, those who reach the pinnacle of tailoring have their work cut out for them. A two-piece suit requires a 48-point measurement system, followed by a 240-step procedure to get it to completion. Each suit comprises over 4,000 stitches done by hand and takes over 30 hours.

Still, for Thomas, driving success is as much about who you are as what you know. “I value attitude more than skill and prioritise an earnest spirit that does honest craft, with no slipshod standards. You can come to me without knowing how to sew a stitch and be accepted into our program, so long as you possess an extraordinary hunger for self-improvement and are committed to doing good craft.” Commit to that, and Thomas Wong sees a strong future for a trade many thought would not survive the onslaught of modern production practices. “The standards and expectations are set, the values are firm, these will not change. We will be bigger and better.”

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