Shi­ung makes the Chi­nese man

A be­spoke tai­lor from Taiwan prov­ince stitches up a world fa­mous business in Bei­jing, Shang­hai

China Daily (USA) - - BUSINESS | FOCUS - By ZHU WENQIAN zhuwen­qian@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Dave Shi­ung, a tai­lor from Taiwan prov­ince, nearly 70, and the owner of Dave’s Cus­tom Tai­lor­ing, is as sea­soned a pro­fes­sional asy­ou­can get any­where. Decades of sewing the finest clothes, par­tic­u­larly be­spoke suits for men, make him an au­thor­ity— he cer­tainly speaks like one — on the art and sci­ence of cus­tom tai­lor­ing.

Fit­tingly per­haps, Forbes mag­a­zine voted Shi­ung’s stores — he runs one each in Bei­jing and Shang­hai — as among the top 10 glob­ally.

Find­ing good tai­lors— that’s the big­gest chal­lenge fac­ing his trade now, he said. More so be­cause de­mand for be­spoke suits is high— and ris­ing.

To mas­ter the skill of suit­mak­ing, a tai­lor needs to be at it for at least 10 years. Just learn­ing how to make a good suit can take seven to eight years, he said.

“Many tai­lors can’t bear this. It’s hard, man­ual work. Earn­ings in the be­gin­ning tend to be mea­ger. So, they quit learn­ing,” Shi­ung said.

To over­come the prob­lem of short-term-minded ap­pren­tices, he spreads his net among the not-so-well-off fam­i­lies of ru­ral China, peo­ple with lit­tle or no ed­u­ca­tional back­ground and sup­port sys­tems. For, only such folks “con­cen­trate on learn­ing the crafts­man­ship”.

While hir­ing as­sis­tant tai­lors to work in his stores, Shi­ung prefers young chil­dren “who are a bit clumsy” and “have nowhere to go”.

After the ini­tial train­ing last­ing for sev­eral years, the mas­ter checks their work­man­ship in terms of pre­cise cuts of the cloth, ac­cu­rate sewing, lin­ing and stitch­ing of seams, pock­ets and but­tons.

Such at­ten­tion to de­tail shows in their out­put: “top­class tai­lored suits”. Not sur­pris­ingly, decades-long pur­suit of sar­to­rial ex­cel­lence has made Shi­ung the go-to tai­lor of the well-heeled and the el­e­gance-minded, es­pe­cially men in the 25-35 age-group, who have re­turned to China after liv­ing abroad.

But it wasn’t like this al­ways. There­wasa time­when most of Shi­ung’s cus­tomers were for­eign­ers work­ing in China, mainly diplo­mat types of em­bassies and con­sulates, and ex­ec­u­tives of multi­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions.

The av­er­age price of a suit is about 8,000 yuan ($1,200) to 10,000 yuan, and it can go all the way up, de­pend­ing on the fab­ric.

He said, “A good suit re­quires work.”

Each of his stores usu­ally makes around 100 suits a month. Each suit takes about two weeks to com­plete. As is the vo­ca­tion’s norm, Shi­ung in­sists on his cus­tomers try­ing out the trial ver­sion, to en­sure the fit is just right.

Cur­rency ex­change rate fluc­tu­a­tions have af­fected his business.

“The for­tunes of the tai­lor­ing business are closely con­nected about 45 hours of with the econ­omy. As the yuan has been de­pre­ci­at­ing against the US dol­lar, it re­quires a higher amount of yuan to get a suit made (as im­ported fab­rics are paid for in dol­lars). Th­ese days, many for­eign­ers think twice be­fore get­ting a suit made,” Shi­ung said.

That at­ti­tude re­minds him of the scene 25 years ago, when Shi­ung came to the Chi­nese main­land to start his business, since the melt­down of the Tai­wanese cur­rency forced the clo­sure of his stores in Taiwan.

In 2015, his stores nev­er­the­less saw a 50 per­cent rise in sales rev­enue be­cause of grow­ing or­ders.

This year, sales are ex­pected to stay at a level com­pa­ra­ble to last year’s.

He is the mas­cot of his business, which, by the way, is not ad­ver­tised — it re­lies on word of mouth. He doesn’t have any e-com­merce plans ei­ther.

He be­lieves that only tra­di­tional, man­ual sewing, can en­sure the suits fit the wear­ers per­fectly.

All along, his fo­cus has been on cre­at­ing ex­quis­ite men’s suits. He wears them, too. At his Bei­jing store at the Kerry Cen­ter Mall in the Guo­mao area, Shi­ung ap­pears natty in a sleek pin­striped suit and a dark gray tie, his el­e­gance am­pli­fied by his elo­quence in English, a lan­guage he has ev­i­dently mas­tered as if it were tai­lor­ing.

“Shake­speare said, ‘Tai­lor makes the man’. I think peo­ple should rather over­dress than be­ing out­dated. I started learn­ing to make suits when I was 14, and I have been work­ing in this business ever since. I don’t have plans to launch any other stores, and if I pass on, my stores are un­likely to sur­vive.”

ZHANG WEI / CHINA DAILY

Dave Shi­ung makes a suit at his store Dave’s Cus­tom Tai­lor­ing at Kerry Cen­ter in Bei­jing.

ZHANG WEI / CHINA DAILY

Shi­ung takes mea­sure­ments of a cus­tomer at his store in Bei­jing.

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