Wed, Aug 31, 2005 - Page 2 News List

Tailors did it tough, but came home in style

BY KO SHU-LING  /  STAFF REPORTER

Chen Yung-jen measures the shoulder of a customer in his clothing store yesterday. Chen won the Golden Needle and Golden Thread International Competition in Berlin last month.

PHOTO: CHEN CHIEH-MING, TAIPEI TIMES

For the past eight years, Chen Yung-jen (陳勇任) had been working at his father-in-law's tailor's shop on Civic Boulevard making men's clothing. But When Chen began to learn to make women's clothing about four months ago, he did not begin to imagine that he would win the top honor at this year's Golden Needle and Golden Thread International Competition in Berlin, Germany.

It was the first time that the 33-year-old father of one had entered an international tailoring contest, which was held earlier this month.

The competition, limited to tailors aged between 25 and 40, is part of the official schedule for the World Congress of Master Tailors.

Taiwan recently won the bid to host the biennial event in 2007.

Competitors are required to finish the last, most important and most difficult part of the tailoring process -- hand-sewing sleeves and collars -- in front of the judges, though the fabric is mailed to contestants before the contest starts.

In addition to sewing technique, contestants must show their designing skills and draw sketches for another piece of fabric and a different body size.

Because of the language barrier, Chen says he did not know in advance that he had to bring a live model to show off his work.

After an agonizing, last-minute search for a model who matched the clothing, he made quick adjustments and sent the model on stage just in time.

Chen, an electronic engineering major, ventured into the tailoring business because of his wife, whom he met at college and who has worked at her father's tailor shop as an accountant since graduating.

In order to be nearer to her, Chen decided to quit his job installing wires in car-park towers, and started an apprenticeship with his father-in-law.

After learning how to handle a needle and thread, Chen proceeded to learn sewing button holes, then to making trousers, vests, jackets and finally the ultimate challenge: cutting fabrics.

"I'm the kind of person who places a lot of pressure on himself," he said. "Sometimes I am so much into my work that I have problems sleeping."

The Berlin award, he says, has given his confidence a big boost in the labor-intensive profession.

Speaking about his son-in-law's achievement, Lee Wang-chin (李萬進) suggested that the award was a bonus for the store -- but would not necessarily help business.

Lee said that two-thirds of his clientele are regular, long-time customers, while new customers account for the remainder.

Comparing business now with a decade ago, Lee says there has been a 30 percent to 40 percent decline due to the declining popularity of suits among the younger generation.

Lee left his home in Taichung and came to Taipei to learn tailoring when he was 16. He opened his own shop at the age of 40. Now, at the age of 56, he says that he is a happy man because he has a daughter, a son-in-law and one of his own sons to continue the family business.

Wu Ping-nan (吳炳南), the silver-prize winner in the competition in men's clothing, was also surprised when he received the award.

Hailing from Keelung, Wu left school after graduating from junior high and came to Taipei to learn tailoring.

"I didn't like school and desperately wanted to learn a professional skill to make money," the retiring 39-year-old said.

When his uncle, Chen Ho-ping (陳和平), needed help at his new tailor's shop on Zhongshan North Road around 12 years ago, Wu came to his assistance.

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