Hong Kong's aging master tailors need a stitch in time

Fri Feb 27, 2015 12:16am EST
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By Donny Kwok

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Bill Clinton did it. So did Boris Johnson, the mayor of London. For many tourists, even if they are not former U.S. presidents, a trip to Hong Kong isn't over till they pick up a made-to-measure outfit from one of its family-run tailor shops.

As consumers worldwide seek out custom-made clothing to set them apart from the ready-to-wear crowd, the Hong Kong bespoke industry's reputation for quality and speedy delivery ought to have helped the former British colony build on its advantage.

Instead, the local tailoring business is in danger of dying out after decades of underinvestment in the face of competition from low-cost centers such as mainland China. Nor has it matched the premium branding enjoyed by London's Savile Row and Milan.

Hong Kong's aging army of tailors may be its last: years of training for demanding and painstaking work that yields low wages deters young people from entering the industry.

At 65, Cheung Wan-sun is among the younger master tailors at Bonham Strand, a bespoke tailoring firm in the Central business district.

"There will be no one to take over the business when we're all retired," said Cheung, one of eight tailors at the firm. "It's not easy to make a living as a tailor."

The profession doesn't pay too well, with tailors taking home around HK$10,000 ($1,290) a month, half the median wage.

While the government pledged HK$500 million ($64.5 million) in its budget on Wednesday to help the city's fashion industry, including promoting local designers and brands, master tailors have been left to fend for themselves.   Continued...

Tailors measure a customer inside a bespoke tailoring firm at Hong Kong's Tsim Sha Tsui shopping district February 14, 2015.      REUTERS/Tyrone Siu