The tailor sits at his table, paying great attention to detail. At Bonham Strand’s workshop in Lai Chi Kok, even the button holes on the suits are hand-stitched.
South Korean Jong Lee is the managing director of RGL Holdings, of which Bonham Strand is a social enterprise. While the summer months were slow, the tailoring business does turn a profit and Lee is keen to turn it into a large manufacturer – for which you need more than 200 workers.
The enterprise serves several purposes – providing quality suits for discerning buyers and refitting donated suits for asylum seekers who have to go to the Immigration Department or the unemployed who to spruce up for a job interview. Then there are the older, often master, tailors, who Lee hires – who were left behind when most tailoring went across the border.
But one of the primary motives of Bonham Strand is to help young, rehabilitated drug addicts get back on their feet.
“I want the best tailors to come and work for me and we also we have been training young men and women,” Lee says.
The young men stay at a Caritas centre, while the young women live at a drug treatment and rehabilitation centre on Lamma run by the Barnabas Charitable Service Association.
“So for the young men, we very deliberately send proxies for their mothers to come and do workshops with them on how to stitch a tie,” says Lee. “So our seamstress goes in once a week for a couple of hours. It teaches them attention to detail and gives them skills.”
Video: Hong Kong bespoke tailor service helps former drug addicts get back on their feet
Lee says the young people live a monastic existence. “They don’t have access to girlfriends or boyfriends, iPhones, cigarettes or alcohol,” he says.
It’s early days, but Lee hopes to build up the number of young people who can be helped by Bonham Strand. His work is from personal experience, having seen a brother go through drug dependency.
It’s also about teaching the young people about the responsibility of turning up for a job. “It’s about setting expectations. ‘I’ve got to be able to get up in the morning’,” Lee says. “Life’s tough, get up.”
Lee is wearing a Bonham Strand suit. It’s a conservative choice. On the rack behind where he sits at a table, there’s a rack of funky jackets, the creations of Fong Wai-keung, the company’s expert designer and sales manager. There’s also a trial range of bags, made from second-hand suits.
Bonham Strand has attracted some serious partners, including SOW Asia, which invests in organisations and people intent on creating sustainable and positive social and environmental outcomes.
Lee is a great fan of Hong Kong. He says his young son has received great medical and education care in the city after being born very premature. But he also gets frustrated at the lack of “caring capitalists” in the city, and with the tax regime, he says, there’s really no excuse.
He feels businesses should be doing far more to be care for the community and its workers, while still turning a profit.