A STITCH IN TIME City’s last re­main­ing bricks-and-mor­tar clothes re­pair shop strug­gles on

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA - By LI WENFANG in Guangzhou li­wen­fang@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Clothes re­pair shops are a rare sight in Guangzhou th­ese days.

The ad­vent of fast fash­ion and e-com­merce have changed buyers’ habits in the cap­i­tal of Guang­dong prov­ince, with many now pre­fer­ring to buy new clothes rather than hav­ing their old gar­ments mended.

Ma Liqing’s place, in Bao­hua Lu, is the last of its kind in the city — a shop that car­ries out re­pairs by hand. The 87-year-old shares 12 square me­ters of re­tail space with her daugh­ter, who sells un­der­wear.

Busi­ness may be slower than it once was, but seven decades of trade have earned Ma some loyal cus­tomers.

“Af­ter all th­ese years, we have many old pa­trons. They come from other coun­tries, from Shen­zhen and Zhuhai,” she said, as she sat in her sparsely dec­o­rated store, mend­ing a ny­lon dress adorned with tra­di­tional Chi­nese pat­terns.

“We used to have more orders than we could finish, but busi­ness has de­creased markedly in the past few years. Peo­ple only bring ex­pen­sive clothes now.”

As a teenager, Ma would make money by knit­ting for some of the stores along Bao­hua Lu. That was be­fore she met her hus­band, whose

Nowa­days, young peo­ple just buy new clothes if their old ones break. They have no con­cept of mend­ing things.”

Ma Liqing, 82, owner of a clothes re­pair shop

clothes re­pair shop spe­cial­ized in mend­ing qi­pao (a tra­di­tional Chi­nese dress), Western-style suits, cash­mere jack­ets and stock­ings, among other clothes and ac­ces­sories.

In 1958, the cou­ple’s store was merged with eight oth­ers and moved to its present ad­dress as part of a re­or­ga­ni­za­tion of the city’s com­mer­cial sec­tor.

Three decades later, as China was em­brac­ing re­form and open­ing-up, clothes re­pair en­joyed some­thing of a boom time.

“Dacron shirts, which ap­peared in the 1970s, were ex­pen­sive then. Some cus­tomers brought us their Dacron shirts that they had worn for over 10 years to get re­paired,” Ma said.

“Nowa­days, young peo­ple just buy new clothes if their

works at her tai­lor shop in Bao­hua Lu in Guangzhou, Guang­dong prov­ince, along­side her daugh­ter, He Huizhen.

old ones break. They have no con­cept of mend­ing things.”

At its height, Ma’s store could count Guangzhou’s fives­tar ho­tels among its clients and was en­trusted with re­pair­ing their valu­able sofa cov­ers and table­cloths.

Some­times she even had to take bags of clothes home with her and ask her two daugh­ters for help, as there were not enough hours in the day to get ev­ery­thing done.

“Some clients scolded us if we could not finish the work on time,” she said.

Things are dif­fer­ent now. The big ho­tels don’t send orders any­more, and Ma mostly works alone — her hus­band died in 2003 and the eight peo­ple who used to work along­side her have all re­tired.

She un­der­went cataract surgery a few years ago, which im­proved her eye­sight and al­lowed her to con­tinue in her job, plus her daugh­ter-in-law helps out at the shop ev­ery three days or so.

“It takes sev­eral hours to fix a piece if the tex­ture is com­plex. New fab­rics come to the mar­ket, but it’s more or less the same. You just mend them ac­cord­ing to their tex­ture. Ny­lon and loose fab­rics are more dif­fi­cult, but you do what you can,” Ma said.

“It is my job, but it’s not easy and most young peo­ple would not bother to learn it.”

One of her cus­tomers, sur­named Feng, came into the store while Ma was chat­ting to col­lect an ex­pen­sive sweater that be­longs to her hus­band. It had a small hole, which Ma fixed for 25 yuan ($4).

“You can’t find any stores like this in Guangzhou any­more. It’s not like a tai­lor’s shop. When clothes are darned they look as good as new — a sewing ma­chine can’t do that,” Feng said.

“It’s beau­ti­fully done. My hus­band will like it.”

A tra­di­tion­al­ist at heart, Ma still takes orders us­ing the bam­boo tiles cov­ered in Chi­nese char­ac­ters that her son made for her 50 years ago. The tiles come in pairs, with one kept by Ma and the other by the client, who presents it when their clothes are ready for col­lec­tion.

She said she has never lost a sin­gle piece of cloth­ing, but still has many mended items that clients have failed to col­lect.

If it weren’t for her daugh­ter’s un­der­wear busi­ness, Ma wouldn’t be able to af­ford the 5,000 yuan monthly rent on the shop. He Huizhen, the daugh­ter, works along­side her mother to make sure no­body tries to pay with fake notes.

She said when Ma re­tires, she plans to close the store — spell­ing the end of an era for such busi­nesses in Guangzhou.

Liang Fengxin con­trib­uted to this story.

PHO­TOS BY LIANG FENGXIN / FOR CHINA DAILY

Ma Liqing

The bam­boo tiles Ma uses to take orders were made by her son 50 years ago.

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