Kowloon City Stories / Contribution

The disappearing tailor

The under-stairs shop:Wing Lai Fashion

The under-stairs shops are a unique urban streetscape in Hong Kong. The owners of these shops spent half of their lives working in such small spaces to earn their living. It not only reflects the spirit of Lion Rock, but also fully reflects the wisdom of Hong Kong people in the flexible use of space.

Uncle Tsang’s shop is inconspicuous on the bustling Lion Rock Road. Outside there is a simple shop sign with Chinese characters “Wing Lai Fashion” written in red. On the day of the visit, Uncle Tsang sat behind the shop window, intently sewing clothes. With his head and black glasses down, you could see his grey hair all over his head, whilst he was neatly threading through the small hole of the sewing machine.

The two long gowns hanging in the glass showcase at the shop front were tailor-made clothes for his wife when Uncle Tsang was young. His wife is old now and cannot wear them; therefore, Uncle Tsang simply displays them as the signboard. The owners of the under-stairs shops always have their business wisdom. When the weather is hot, Uncle Tsang would use the leftover cloth from sewing to cover the shop window to prevent the shop from getting too hot. At the same time, the shop can become a temporary fitting room when needed.

Kowloon City is facing redevelopment and many shops nearby have been vacated. If the under-stairs shops disappear, where can all these old shop masters go? I really admire the dedication and diligence of the masters towards traditional businesses. Uncle Tsang said that clothes were not important treasures; like key making and watch repairing skills, no matter how proficient the skill of the shop masters is, some customers might forget when they left the shops. However, when seeing Uncle Tsang show off the clothes which are brought in for repair and hearing his stories of returning customers, it proves that as long as you are doing your best, even on small matters; customers will remember the good service and come back in future.

One year later, when I walked past Kowloon City again to visit Uncle Tsang, Wing Lai Fashion had become an auto-mobile shop which sold vehicle parts.

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