Tourists become tailors in scheme to revive Hong Kong’s ailing industry

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 February, 2014, 11:02am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 February, 2014, 11:05am

Tourists will receive masterclasses in bow-tie making as part of a new scheme aimed at reviving Hong Kong’s tailoring industry.

They will receive expert tips, insight and advice from veteran tailors and seamstresses at a Bonham Strand workshop in Lai Chi Kok as part of a new tour being advertised on the Tourism Board’s website.

Turning the tourists into tailors is the latest challenge for the workshop, which opened two years ago as a social enterprise to help industry veterans. The workshop, which has about 20 veteran tailors and seamstresses, also helps to rehabilitate drug users and provide work for the mentally disabled.

“We hope to help revive the tailoring business in Hong Kong,” said Sonia Chan She-wan, chief executive officer of Bonham Strand.

“The global market for suits has been on the rise in recent years. Even rap stars are wearing tailored suit jackets. But in Hong Kong, it’s shrinking. We hope the masters won’t give up.”

Chan, who used to work as a lawyer in the US, set up the workshop with her husband after returning to Hong Kong with her children five years ago.

Her husband developed the idea of setting up a tailoring business to provide a better working environment for veteran tailors and seamstresses, many of whom were toiling away in dark, cramped spaces and receiving unstable incomes.

The workshop also provided training and employment for former drug addicts, and its mission then expanded to provide work for ethnic minorities and mentally disabled people.

“We told them that we could sell their products and they were very happy,” said Chan.

One of the workshop’s veteran workers, Chung Yin-wing, visits homes operated by NGOs to rehabilitate drug addicts. She teaches them basic skills and how to make simple products such as hair accessories.

“I only started teaching people when I came here to work. It’s great that I can give back to the community,” she said.

The global market for suits has been on the rise in recent years. ... But in Hong Kong, it’s shrinking. We hope the masters won’t give up
Sonia Chan, Bonham Strand CEO

Chung, who is in her 50s, started working in a clothes factory as a teenager and remained until the 1990s, when many of Hong Kong’s factories closed.

She said tourists should be able to make bow ties after about two hours of tuition.

“I hope to introduce them to this Hong Kong handicraft. It’s a local culture. Many Westerners come to Hong Kong for a tailored suit. It’s cheaper and the quality is professional.”

The tourist classes will be added to a one-day tour currently offered by HS Travel International that includes visits to metal signage and shoemaking workshops.

Bookings can be made through the agency and at the Tourism Board’s centre in Tsim Sha Tsui.