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The PEAK, Featured / August 2017
How Singapore’s bespoke tailors are future-proofing their trade
Collaborating, diversifying, or instituting a mentorship-centred business model: How three of Singapore’s top tailors are staying competitive in a tough trade.
”TWO OF A KIND Master Thomas Wong and “disciple” Marcus Lio at The Prestigious.”
HANDS ON Wong works closely with his team of young tailors, although he no longer personally accepts work commissions.
MAKE HIS MARK Lio makes some adjustments to a jacket that he is working on.
When local master tailor Thomas Wong was first asked to impart his tailoring skills to former civil engineer Marcus Lio three years ago, he had his reservations. The 70-year- old veteran, who now closely mentors a team of young tailors at his atelier, The Prestigious, recalls: “I said, how can? An engineer wants to learn tailoring? How difficult would it be for me to train him?”
However, his doubts evaporated after meeting Lio, and seeing the jacket and trouser patterns that the latter had drafted. Wong, who also teaches menswear tailoring at Lasalle College of the Arts, shares: “He was self-taught. Being able to draft patterns like he did is not easy, and it showed me he was committed to this.”
Today, Lio is a lead tailor at The Prestigious, which stands out on the local tailoring scene with its unique mentorship model, helmed by Wong. (The latter will soon be joined by a Savile Row tailor, who comes on board as a mentor and co-technical director.) Lio is also one of Wong’s handful of “disciples” – a term reserved only for his best students, who include Dylan Chong and Matthew Lai, who are profiled elsewhere in this feature.
Seated next to his mentor during our interview, Lio shares that he decided to start a tailoring business with a partner after returning to Singapore from Australia, where he had spent several years studying and working as a civil engineer. Lio remembers: “We came into this industry not knowing much. We used to outsource jobs to local contractors. However, you cannot solve customers’ problems without any technical background yourself.”
“The most challenging part about tailoring is that there are no definite answers.”
– Marcus Lio
Three years on, this is not a problem for Lio, although he humbly acknowledges that there is still much to learn: “It’s tough to try and think like Mr Wong, and to maintain the standard of The Prestigious, which has been one of the top tailoring brands in Singapore for a long time.” The younger tailor believes, however, that he has surmounted the biggest obstacle facing the next generation. He says: “The greatest challenge for them is finding an avenue to learn. If there wasn’t a Mr Wong here, I would be wondering, who can I look for to teach me?”