Amsterdam - “Everything that happens within these doors is part of the world of tailors. This is where people come to discover the true potential they have at their fingertips or improve on the skills they already have,” explains Nannet van der Kleijn, board member of the Master Tailor Institute in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The sprawling hallways and ateliers of the school, which is nestled in the city’s West side are remarkably quiet for such an immense educational institute. But this level of silence is common, adds Nannet, as everyone who steps through these doors shares a single passion: becoming the best possible tailors they can be.
“A master tailor will fit things on themselves, so they can see how a garment will look and feel. They want to understand it’s construction and how it's made.” This attitude is reflected in the level of focus a final year student pays when making minute adjustments to her corseted evening gown. The Master Tailor Institute is the only school in the Benelux-region which offers certifications for all tailoring levels. Offering both full-time, as well as part-time courses, the institute aims to safeguard the industry’s tailoring skills and breath new life into this slowly diminishing craft. Which is why they have joined forces with Alvanon, global consulting firm, to offer students, brands and companies alike a safe space to hone their skills and practice their craft on full form mannequins, namely The Fit Studio.
"The tailor is the person between the producer and the designer - they have to take somebody’s design and re-engineer it so that it can be produced. They are the bridge - it’s very special piece skill - and once you identified what that is, it’s practically like the architect of fashion"
The Fit Studio in the Master Tailor Institute is the first of its kind to open outside of Alvanon’s offices in New York, London, and Hong Kong. Featuring a full line of Alvanon Fit Models, for women and men, the studio can either be rented out by brands who are looking to test out the fit standards of a garment, or used by the students practising their skills on a realistic mannequin. “We started the Fit Studio with the aim of making it accessible to all who may need it,” explains Janice Wang, CEO of Alvanon to FashionUnited. “With the number of brands in the Netherlands needing such aid, the studio lends it out in different ways.”
The newest Fit Studio uses the same booking system as those located in Alvanon global offices, making it easy for both parties to keep track of who is renting the studio and when. “We are trying to figure out how to tailor each one of these studios to a specific need that they have,” notes Wang. “Each Fit Studio meets a different need depending on their location.” Which is why the Master Tailor Institute was such an appealing location for Alvanon to open a Fit Studio, as not only does it attract a range of companies, it’s also attracting apprentices. “It’s attracting a certain type of student. They are all highly interested in this engineering and making aspect.” As the Master Tailor Institute focuses on tailoring in the purest sense, the school ensures its qualifications are up to the highest standard and skills set and do not offer any other types of fashion courses. “Students taking our courses will always know they can become a master tailor,” says van der Kleijn.
Alvanon and The Master Tailor Institute team up to protect future fashion skills
This focus on the future tailors of tomorrow is why the Fit Studio at the Master Tailor Institute is part of Alvanon’s educational initiatives alongside its annual mentorship scheme, which sees the company giving back to the industry. “In order to be able to aid more people, we decided that we needed to be able to open the Fit Studios to all designers. We asked what we could do to help those already working to improve the industry,” explains Wang. “Then we realized if our Fit Studio was located in an educational institute, we could take the money earned from the studio rentals and give it back to them in the form of a bursary...The whole thinking behind it all is to be able to give back to the industry itself - in whichever means we can.” Some may wonder why a company like Alvanon, which is best known for its data and consultancy services, is so focused on improving fit while giving back to the fashion industry. But that goes back to the company’s roots.
“My father had this vision, he was both a doctor and a garment manufacturer.” Alvanon was originally a spin-off business launched by Dr. Kenneth Wang in 2001. After failing to sell clothing online, he began looking at other ways to help standardize the selling of apparel online. “He said ‘let’s look at the body’ that we are actually designing the goods on. So we started looking at the mannequins and saw they were not standard at all. Then we asked ourselves how we could make a better mannequin.” The result was Alvaforms, mannequins based on real human anatomy, created with an understanding of pattern making and garment production in mind, to help brands, designers and companies ensure their products achieve the best possible fit. “That’s how Alvanon started.”
Alvanon and the Master Tailor Institute open debut Fit Studio
Fit remains a central focal point to both Alvanon and the Master Tailor Institute. “The Fit movement story from Alvanon fits right into our master tailor story and the current job market,” says van der Kleijn, who is very pleased to be working together with Alvanon to help safeguard the future of hard fashion skills. “We are partners in craft and fit. We feel like Alvanon truly understands the real DNA of a tailor and the important role they have within the industry.” Both Wang and van der Kleijn speak of the loss of hard skills the industry has suffered over the years since fashion brands first began moving their ateliers out of their companies and overseas into factories for mass production. “Back in the day, you were able to walk into a store and see the tailors at work in the atelier, physically making clothing. The tailor had a face. But now, the employees of most fashion brands don't even have direct contact with 'the people of the atelier' anymore.”
As the visibility of these hard fashion skills, such as pattern skills and tech design, which may not sound very appealing roles but are crucial to the future of the fashion industry slowly began to fade from sight a gap began to emerge in the industry. The rise of fast-fashion and the democratisation of fashion has also been taking away attention from the old skills, while simultaneously promoting the importance of fashion design. Unsurprisingly schools around the world began taking notice of this increased interest in fashion, and eager to get their slice of the pie, began offering numerous courses. This, in turn, has led to the watering down of the real skillset needed to become a true clothing craftsman as well as the dilution of fashion education, argues van der Kleijn.
“It’s always the tailor who knows what makes the real difference in how a garment will look and feel to ensure it has the right fit"
“This is not a criticism of the schools at all - because the schools can only do so much - they are also business enterprises at the end of the day,” points out Wang. “And the things they are going to teach are the things that give students a basic foundation. But what they can’t teach is experience and technical expertise. We feel in general that the apparel industry has not sufficiently trained enough people - especially new blood. That’s part of the reason why you are seeing the things that are happening overseas, [Like Rana Plaza], occur,” she adds. “Unless you actually make the goods yourself then it is very difficult to know all the different aspects that go into making it. If you do not have any access to mass manufacturing then you don’t know how your decision may impact those in the factories and have no way of empathising with the workers.”
Fortunately for the Master Tailor Institute and Alvanon an increasing number of companies are recognising the lack of hard skills and the growing gap in the market and are willing to work together to make a change. But for now, the two are pleased with the results of their partnership. “We all speak the same language and all want to preserve something and we all think it's very important. We haven't taught it well for very long,” concludes Wang. “It’s lovely feeling when you think about how the fashion industry is known to be such a cut throat industry. As an entire industry, we are facing a problem. So it’s just a matter of getting like minded people together and doing things together. Each party may have different needs or ways of handling these issues, but at the end of the day the mission is the same.”
Photos: Taken by Willem de Kam, courtesy of Alvanon and the Master Tailor Institute
Homepage photo from left to right: Nannet van der Kleijn, board member of the Master Tailor Institute; Janice Wang, CEO of Alvanon; and Han Bekke, President of the International Apparel Federation, Chairman of the Board at Meesteropleiding Coupeur