Originally created 06/02/04

Tailors make stitch in time

Attaching the sleeve to the shoulder is the hardest part of making a suit.

Getting the pieces to line up just right so that they fit and hang properly is an art that quality tailors know.

Khanh Le, a tailor and the owner of Le Fashion Design on Wrightsboro Road, knows it. He's been making suits since before he arrived in the United States as a refugee from Vietnam in 1989.

But his art is one that he can't pass on.

"I can't find good people to work in my store. They don't have the skills," Mr. Le said. "This is a hard job and people don't want to do hard jobs anymore."

As the country celebrates National Tailors Day today, the ranks of tailors are thinning as more suits and clothing are being mass produced in factories overseas, reducing the need for skilled tailors capable of crafting suits by hand.

"Tailoring is a very time-consuming and labor-intensive activity," said Sandra Hutton, the executive director of the International Textile and Apparel Association.

Tailors cut and sew all the fabric themselves to create hand-stitched jackets and pants designed to fit a customer's contours.

While tailors craft one suit at a time, manufacturing facilities in China can cut 50 suits in just a few minutes using large, machine-operated scissors, Ms. Hutton said.

Mr. Le said if he worked nonstop fitting and cutting a suit, he could be done in about six to seven hours. In reality, it takes him a few weeks to measure the customer, order the fabric and assemble it before it is done. Mr. Le's suits start at $700.

"I like to see how it goes from a piece of fabric to something that looks good on your body," he said, adding that he suspects a suit in China is ready in about 30 minutes.

Still, he and other tailors spend much of their time altering the sleeve or pants length of suits purchased elsewhere.

Tracey Bohler learned the art of tailoring while working in a men's store. Though Ms. Bohler already knew how to sew, an older woman she worked with taught her to pattern and cut suits, the art of tailoring. But the Men's Wearhouse employee rarely uses her skills, spending her time letting out waists and shaping cuffs.

"We could make something from scratch, but in the industry we're in, it's cheaper to do ready-made clothes," she said.

Though off-the-rack suits offer quality goods, tailors argue the way their suits fit justify the cost.

"If you're going to spend $2,000 or $3,000 off the rack and then have it altered, why not have one made for you?" said Suzanne Kilgore, the executive director of the Custom Tailors and Designers Association.

Ms. Kilgore said some tailors will even create suits from specially made fabric in which the customer's name is woven into the pinstripe.

"It's very subtle," she said.

But few people are buying thousand-dollar suits. Most people opt for the less expensive ones at department stores and men's clothing shops.

"Retail is a lot less than what you can custom order," said Jeanne Yun, the owner of Jeanne's Fashion & Alterations, one of a handful of tailors listed in the phone book. "Years ago, I had lots of customers. But now I have very few."

The declining demand for tailored suits is slowly cutting down the industry.

A 2003 study by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics shows there were 32,150 tailors in the United States, down from 32,840 in 2000.

"You just don't see too many tailors around anymore," said Bruce Jackson, the owner of Gentry's Mens Shop in Surrey Center.

Reach James Gallagher at (706) 823-3227 or james.gallagher@augustachronicle.com.


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