Captains take their hats off to him
How do some shops survive for decades? In this series, SEOW YUN RONG (firstname.lastname@example.org) learns their secrets
A piece of cloth and a pair of sharp scissors are all Mr Ken Chow needs to carve out the parts of a ship captain's jacket.
He runs maritime uniform and tailor shop Ken Fashions for Men, which opened at the basement of Peninsula Shopping Centre in 1971.
The 77-year-old tells The New Paper on Sunday: "In the past 45 years, I've seen over a thousand ship captains.
"It is always a pleasant surprise when they come back and visit me because sometimes I don't know how far they are going and when they'll return to Singapore."
Apart from tailoring suits and uniforms for ship captains, Mr Chow also sells peak caps, epaulettes and badges that are imported from Turkey and the US.
A tailor-made ship captain's jacket costs at least $500 and a peak cap costs $250.
Other items such as baseball caps and a pair of epaulettes cost $50.
Back in the 1970s, crowds filled Peninsula Shopping Centre, Mr Chow says. But now, only a handful of people walk past his shop every day.
He says: "The tailoring trade is dying. Nowadays, people just come in to check the sizes and then proceed to order everything online.
"At least for me, the ship captains still come back and buy their uniforms because these are so rare."
He adds that while many old customers have retired, young captains who have just graduated from polytechnics are now buying from him too.
Interestingly, Mr Chow didn't start out as a tailor.
After secondary school, he became a salesman who sold household items.
After two years, he decided to pick up tailoring as he had a passion for fashion. He says his business kicked off immediately.
"I had many friends who were in the maritime business, so they started to introduce more and more friends to my shop," he says.
"I never intended to sell uniforms for ship captains... it just happened."
TRUST HIS WORK
One regular customer, Captain San Win, 50, has known Mr Chow since 1994.
He says: "Back when I first knew him, I was only a junior officer who was sent to Ken to buy uniforms.
"Now that I am working in Wallenius Marine Singapore, we decided to engage Ken as our regular tailor because he is experienced, and we trust his work."
Even after 45 years, Mr Chow shows no sign of slowing down.
He says that even though his two children are not keen on taking over the business, he hopes that someone can take over one day.
"Once I retire, this shop will close. I am willing to teach someone as long as he has the passion to learn."