Kevin Seah trained as an apprentice seamstress in women's tailoring at a tender age of 17. After over two decades of hands-on experience, he founded his eponymous label to craft quality bespoke and made-to-measure menswear in 2009. The business may have evolved tremendously over the years, yet face-to-face client interactions remain paramount to Kevin’s process – an often neglected stage in this digital era.
When did you start making clothes?
I was 14 when I first discovered my interest in Fashion Design. I was in a bookshop when I discovered a Japanese fashion magazine. I flipped through it and I was amazed. I told myself I could do that. After that day, I started drawing in all my school textbooks. After high school, I went to be an apprentice at a company that does women's custom tailoring.
Was it intimidating for you to venture into the industry with no formal training? How did you push yourself to become better?
I’ve always been very confident about what I do. I was lucky people believed in me and let me have the creative freedom to do what I want to do. I’m always hungry to create. I just want to see my creations and ideas come alive.
What do you look out for when crafting bespoke suits?
Creating something for someone means understanding what the person would like. The most important thing to do is to have a conversation and to try to understand the client’s needs. Whether he needs a casual jacket or a business suit, his lifestyle and personal taste. I always get them to tell me their occupation first and whether they need a suit for work or perhaps for an event or wedding.
Bespoke is all about creating everything from scratch. Linings can be designed individually, buttons can be engraved or fabrics can be specially woven for clients who can pay. Taste varies and we don’t often share our client’s taste in everything. That is perfectly fine, but we need to try to make him something that he will come back to. Quality is the most important. Style is irrelevant to someone who does not care about style.
So the customer has to physically visit your atelier. How do you make your work accessible to international clients?
Yes definitely! We do not offer online tailoring, which is commonly found nowadays. It’s impossible to tailor something for someone without them being physically around to let us fit them. We do however travel to cities like Hong Kong and Bangkok for trunk shows every season, where we will meet and take orders from clients, as well as fit them personally.
Do you ever think about scaling up internationally?
We have received many requests to do trunk shows in America and Europe over the past two years. It is difficult to scale up in terms of trunk shows, as I have to balance the business in Singapore with travelling. The only way for more people to buy the KEVIN SEAH brand is for us to create a ready-to-wear line. We are in talks with a few parties to do that in the future when we are ready.
Is it important to maintain a level of exclusivity?
Exclusivity is important for the brand, but we still need to pay bills in our business. So at the end of the day, we need a balance between being exclusive and being able to pay our bills, as we don’t have a big [financial] backer.
Who are the core members that make up your atelier?
The tailor drafts and cut the garment; the seamstresses who sew up the final garment at the workshop; two in-house staff who work on finishing, as well as myself and another assistant who fit the clients and do the finishing too.
What are you hoping to achieve with your own line of fabrics?
I have always loved textile design. We just started creating our own fabric by working with mills in United Kingdom, who have been weaving for hundreds of years. The aim is to create exclusive cloths that are not commonly found in the market, as well as offer exclusive designs to our clients.
We recently worked with Fox Brothers, a woolen mill in West England to create a lightweight basket weave Glen Check in a dark navy for our sixth anniversary. It's limited to only 30-metre (approximately 6 jacket lengths).
What gives you the most satisfaction from your work?
When clients refer their friends to us, the recognition from strangers and people I receive when I’m overseas. It shows that our work have travelled far and wide.
What are your thoughts on the current landscape?
All I can say is, don’t create hype. Hype will kill a craft and eat into your own livelihood once it’s gone. This is what feeds us. We want to elevate the standard of bespoke tailoring here in Singapore, so that people do not see us as a cheap tailoring hub.
Photos by @boywhowanders