Man at His Best

What I've Learned: Ah Loke

Veteran tailor Mr. Loke gives us an insight on tailoring and how the times have now changed.

BY Ian Loh | Mar 26, 2016 | Culture

Marcus Wong

Loke Kwong Yuen, Owner of Ah Loke Tailor, Jalan Yap Ah Shak, 60+, Kuala Lumpur

My age? I am old already lah. Look at my belly.

I am the second-generation owner of the shop. We have been around for more than 60 years. My father started it in ’50s in Campbell shopping complex; we moved shortly after May 13. We live upstairs now.

Business is quite good. We have a lot of foreign customers. Many Singaporeans come to us because of the weak ringgit. But if we can’t find new workers, then we can’t meet the demand. We have a small workshop; all the experienced tailors are about my age.

We make jodhpurs. We were the only tailor who made jodhpurs in the whole of KL in the ’70s. Many famous tailors back then didn’t know how to make them. My father learned how to make jodhpurs in Hong Kong and China, and then taught me. We made them for almost all the polo players back then.

The style of jodhpurs has changed. It used to be flared. Now, it’s more slim-fitting and the fabric is stretchable. The suede helps to protect your inner calves and knees from chafing.

I have five children but none of them are interested in taking over the business. What to do? It’s tough hiring new people. The younger generation is not interested in the business. But who knows? One day, they might change their minds. Just let it be lah.

A master tailor can finish a suit in two days. If it’s a 100 percent handmade suit, it takes about one week.

We have all sorts of customers. We charge those who demand a lot a higher price. But normally, they are willing to pay more, so it’s okay.

My father taught me tailoring. When I was young, I would come to the shop after school and just follow him around. He didn’t force me into the industry. As he got older, I decided to help out but ended up taking over the business. I’ve developed an interest over the years; otherwise, I wouldn’t be here now. Well, it’s a family business, after all.

Tailors follow trends too. We have a Malaysia Master Tailors Association and an Asian Master Tailors Association. Every two or three years, we hold a conference and discuss trends and talk about tailoring techniques. Next year, we are going to Thailand.

I’ve never entered a competition before. I’ve only exhibited my work at the conference.

My sons are not married yet. When they get married, I will make their wedding suits.

My wife and my brother also work with me. My wife has been working here since we got married. She knew how to sew even before we were married. My brother only joined us much later; he didn’t have much interest in the early years.

Young people are coming to us these days, because they want something more personalised. They usually print out the kind of suits that they want from the Internet and show them to us. We try to replicate them, but of course, it’s impossible to get it 100 percent the same. Some of them even design their own suit and get us to make it.

Craftsmanship is important. If you can control the fabric and produce good canvas interlining, then you’ll be a good tailor.

We have loyal customers who have been with us for 20 or 30 years. Even when they don’t make suits, they make a few pairs of trousers every year.

The older generation cares more about comfort and fit; young people usually go for the look and the style.

You can wash suede. But don’t dry it under the sun; otherwise, it will become stiff.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was our customer. He came and made jodhpurs. That was about 10 years ago.

Joe Bugner was here, too. He was the Hungarian boxer who was defeated by Muhammad Ali in a few minutes.

I think we have a Facebook page. People have told me that they found us through Facebook. I think our customers set it up for us.

First published in Esquire Malaysia, The Fashion Issue, September 2015.