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In a monthly series, Yahoo Singapore talks to individuals who have chosen unique, unconventional…



More Than a Job

Whatever your chosen craft, vocation or profession, we all have work to do. In a monthly series, Yahoo Singapore talks to individuals who have chosen unique, unconventional and distinctive careers. For some, it’s about passion. Others have a sense of duty. But for all of them, it’s more than a job.

Three months into a six-year apprenticeship at bespoke tailors The Prestigious, it has been a steep learning curve for Sheryl Yeo, 25.

For example, a typical tailor might take half an hour to finish sewing the buttons on a shirt. In the beginning, Yeo, who had no background in fashion, took 90 minutes to do so. She has since cut it down to 45 minutes.

“I felt like I was a fish out of water. I was observing them and thinking, ‘I don’t know how to hold a needle’,” recalled Yeo, who studied mass communications and marketing at school.

The apprenticeship did not come by easily for Yeo either. After applying to “all sorts of things” in search of a training programme in the fashion industry, she “barged” her way into The Prestigious.

“I actually applied to Prestigious for a marketing role. I just barged in and said (during the job interview), actually I’m looking to be an apprentice as well. The manager was kind of shocked for a bit,” recalled Yeo.

The terms were tough. Yeo would have to forsake weekly basketball sessions with her team in order to accommodate a six-day work week.

She also had to take on a marketing role in addition to the apprenticeship. Not to mention a pay cut of almost 50 per cent from her last job, which meant saying goodbye to “shiny things”, she said ruefully.

Still, Yeo said “Yes”.

“I kind of wish I went to fashion school, but because of my lack of background, it kind of makes me hungry to purse what I am pursuing right now. It took a leap of faith to come here, but I see a long-term path with the team here.”

The Prestigious

Yeo is the newest apprentice at The Prestigious, which relaunched in Boat Quay last month with a team of junior tailors handpicked and trained by master tailor Thomas Wong over the past four years. Unusually for the tailoring world, the six apprentices at The Prestigious are all women.

Video by Nurual Amirah

“Times change. As long as you are a good tailor, there is no gender block.”.

MR THOMAS WONG, on women entering the tailoring trade

The 69-year-old Wong has spent more than half a century in the trade and counts Bonvest Holdings chairman Henry Ngo and the late entertainment mogul Sir Run Run Shaw among his clients. Tailored shirts at The Prestigious start from $150, while suits start from $1,280 and can go up to five figures.

Wong, the two-term president of the Singapore Master Tailors Association can recall the old days when women were rarely in the front lines in tailoring shops.

“They are in the back lines. They don’t have a chance to stand in front of the customer. And customers also may not accept women to take measurements for them and service them,” said Wong, who also heads the menswear programme at LaSalle College of the Arts.

“Times change. As long as you are a good tailor, there is no gender block.”

A love of fashion

Yeo’s long-time interest in fashion was spurred when she went to university in Melbourne in 2013, and encountered “a whole new world” of people dressing for themselves.

“I realised that there are a lot more avenues to be yourself. You don’t have to worry about what you wear, as long as you feel confident,” she said.

Yeo also had a two-year stint as marketing manager at custom menswear company Marcella, which galvanised her interest in men’s wear and androgynous women’s wear.

“I do admire when women look good in suits. I think they look strong and independent,” said Yeo, who admires fashion designers such as Thom Browne.

After Marcella closed its physical stores, she spent six months in a social media marketing role while doing a night course in basic fashion design at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.

That was when Yeo, the daughter of a sales director and housewife, decided to take the “huge jump” into the fashion industry. Her parents, particularly her father, were initially shocked but grew to be supportive.

“I just want to be in the heat of everything and participate in things that I believe in,” she said.


Baby steps

At this stage of her apprenticeship, Yeo is restricted to drafting shirt designs and minimal sewing work. Eventually, she will get to interact with customers and also take on commissions.

In the transition from a desk job to working with her hands all day, she has had to learn the value of patience and concentration – qualities that she readily admits do not come naturally to her.

But the “encouraging environment” at The Prestigious has helped immensely, said Yeo. Much of her instruction comes from lead tailor Marcus Lio, 37, who noted that Yeo underwent a “sea change” in her career.

“She’s probably better than what I expected, to be honest. She’s willing to put in the time that she has promised. So I also do my part to try and coach her as much as possible.”

For Yeo, the dream is to one day open her own clothing store. But for now, she is in the process of making a shirt for her father.

“My dad’s a really simple, basic kind of person when it comes to clothing. He just likes to find something that’s comfortable,” said Yeo with a smile.


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