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Trying time on the cutting edge


Anesta Henry

Trying time on the cutting edge

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For one, the status of her business reflects the trying times of the current economic climate; for the other, knowledge and versatility have helped him through these times.The Weekend Nation recently sat down with a tailor and a seamstress, who have contrasting stories at this stage of their respective careers.Made-to-order clothing has been a part of Bajan culture for years. In some cases, the craft has been passed down from generation to generation. And although ready-made garments are produced by a number of garment factories across the island, many Barbadians still hold dear to the tradition of having their clothes custom-made.While being interviewed at her establishment, Val’s Manufacturing Shop, in Pelican Village, seamstress Valda Clarke reported that had it not been for her family, friends and “alterations”, her business would have been “shut down by now”.“Making garments for friends and relatives is what keeps me going. I used to export garments to Trinidad and I had seven people working with me at that time. But Trinidad has changed; they hardly import anything from Barbados. Instead, they are exporting to us . . . now I am not getting enough work to employ anybody . . . I am barely working to employ myself. I think the business is barely surviving because I make everything myself. I cannot depend on a sale from this shop – I would starve,” said Clarke, who has been a seamstress for over 35 years.As she worked her sewing machine, constantly pushing the hem of a frock towards the machine’s needle, Clarke said that “while for the last few years school uniforms have helped to bring money into this shop, this year hasn’t been very good”. “Some people complain about the prices I charge, especially some parents who want me to make their children’s school uniforms. I remember one lady came to inquire about getting her daughter’s school uniform made and she was complaining that my prices are too expensive.“At that time, there was another parent here who was collecting his child’s uniform at the same price. And that parent asked her ‘How long do you think it would take to make a uniform?’ and she said, ‘It wouldn’t take more than a day.’ And he looked at her and said, ‘Would you work for $35 a day?’” As she recalled the incident, a look of disbelief came over her face. She took her eyes away from her machine for a few seconds and shook her head.Difficult timesThough her business was experiencing difficult times, Clarke said the advent of local manufacturing factories was not to blame. In fact, she pointed out that most factories had closed their doors and most business and school uniforms were being imported from Trinidad and Jamaica.Meanwhile, over in Shop Hill, St Thomas, busy ironing a piece of cloth, Sylvaughn Harper, who became a self-taught tailor “out of necessity” over 40 years ago, reported he serviced “a fairly large clientele”.“I have never ever encountered any problems. From year to year most of my work comes through referrals. Even with the advent of factory uniforms, I still have a full complement of uniforms to make every year. And I try to be as lenient as possible as far as prices are concerned . . . some parents have three and four children going back into school,” he said.The 59-year-old admitted that he did not believe his tailoring career would make him a millionaire. However, he said, by removing “can’t” from his vocabulary and making “any and everything there is to be made with cloth”, he has always been “way ahead of the game”.Personal touchHarper, who outfits residents from his “hometown” Shop Hill and surrounding communities, said it was the “personal touch” that usually made the difference.He explained that in some cases full payment of the bill was not forthcoming – yet he would still hand over the finished product. He admitted, though, it was not something he did too often. “The industry can’t die because food, clothing and shelter are the three basic necessities in life . . . man needs to survive and I supply the clothing. This industry can’t die because people wear clothes everyday. I am sure you wouldn’t see anybody walking around Broad Street naked,” Harper said with a smile.A customer, then offered this advice for those already in the industry and those aspiring to make a career out of tailoring: “You have got to be efficient when it comes to making clothing. You have to be able to produce any and every garment possible . . . buy books, go back to training, do whatever you have to do and never limit yourself.”

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