Nestled within a maze of shop-houses against the backdrop of Old Woodlands Town Centre, Poh Heng Tailor is hidden from public scrutiny. What many don’t know is that this shop has survived for 32 years.
Measuring just five metres by three metres, the shop contains only the bare essentials with Madam Poh Siew Hong, 51, an un-missable presence. She stood at the table, fingers pulling a pair of pants this way and that.
In the 1980s, electric sewing machines were not yet popular, and Poh Heng Tailor’s needlework had to be done either manually, or by the pedal-powered sewing machine, which still sits in the shop today.
Altering one piece of clothing manually could take up to twice the time it takes for the electrical sewing machine to do it now, which explains Madam Poh’s deft fingers.
Business boomed in the 80s and 90s, averaging 90 customers a day, with orders ranging from simple altering of clothing to tailoring of full business suits. Today she gets 40 customers a day. Her prices have stayed affordable, even in the face of emerging competition from casual wear brands like Uniqlo, which offers alteration for a small fee.
Benny Moh, a 16-year-old student from Woodlands Ring Secondary School, is a second-time returning customer. Both times, he had asked to have his clothing altered.
“I appreciate that my clothing always looks fine after being altered here. And the service is pretty fast, which is a bonus,” he said.
Items of clothing can be altered within 10 to 20 minutes, and customers are often asked to take a walk and their clothes will be ready when they come back.
But Poh Heng Tailor has faced fluctuating business as tailoring services seem to be less popular with the younger crowd.
“I usually buy ready-to-wear clothing, because it’s convenient and there’s no waiting time,” said Susan Quek, 17, a student from Riverside Secondary School.
“Even if the clothes I bought turn out to not fit well, I don’t think I would go to get them altered to my size. It’s just too much trouble.”
Madam Poh runs the shop herself but occasionally gets help from her brother Mr Chong Cow Ming, 41 who runs his own tailor shop in Malaysia.
Poh Heng Tailor will be in operation until 2015, when Old Woodlands Town Centre will be closed for redevelopment. There are currently no plans to set up the shop elsewhere.