From drug needles ... to a needle and thread

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 May, 2012, 12:00am


Kenny Shum spent years honing his skills as a tailor, specialising in the intricate detailing of women's suits.

At the same time, he fed an 18-year heroin habit that robbed him of his life savings.

He eventually had to stop working as a tailor and found himself doing menial labouring jobs.

But now, at 46, he is back doing what he loves - making bespoke suits - with the help of a new social enterprise called Bonham Strand. Established by private investors RGL Holdings, the scheme aims to hire older local tailors who are struggling to find work and partner them with young drug addicts in rehabilitation who want to learn the trade.

The company has already hired several experienced tailors and fitted out a spacious workshop in Cheung Sha Wan.

Launched last month, the team has received about 70 orders and recently struck a deal with a major corporate client for in-house orders.

The price of a tailored suit starts from HK$3,500 using premium Italian fabrics and takes about three weeks to finish. Next month, the tailors will start to mentor young people through partnerships with local drug rehabilitation programmes run by the St Stephen's Society and Barnabas.

RGL Holdings managing director Jong Lee said their business model was to help revive the 'Made in Hong Kong' brand and a major goal was to expand, with plans to have 30 staff by December.

'The bespoke business is growing worldwide,' he said, but many older tailors in Hong Kong were unable to tap into this growth.

'We see it as a distressed asset,' added Brian Ng, a former investment banker who is managing the enterprise. 'Attitude is very important as we hire people who can teach, learn and work with others.' For Shum, who has been drug-free for the past four years, it's a second chance. 'I'm very excited,' he said.

'Tailoring is a lifelong job, it's a way of life so I want to learn new things now.'

Another tailor working at the enterprise is Mak Man-chung, 64, who was about to hang up his measuring tape when he saw a notice for Bonham Strand at the Mirador Mansion in Tsim Sha Tsui, a hub of men's and women's tailors.

He followed in his father's footsteps by picking up his first needle and thread when he was aged just seven before starting an apprenticeship at 14.

Mak said that about 30 years ago, he could make between HK$20,000 and HK$30,000 per month, but this had now dropped to HK$8,000.

'I felt rejuvenated by this social enterprise and gave up on retirement,' he said.