Coincidentally, I was recently talking to the owner of a custom clothiers shop in NYC last week, and he told me that he’s thinking about shutting down the tailoring side of his business next year (after being in business for about 50 years) because he can’t find people who can make clothes as good as he needs. His current head tailor is 85 years old and won’t be around forever, but finding a replacement has been tough. I hear this a lot from custom clothing shops, although some — such as Rubinacci — seem to be able to attract talent without any issue.
I’ve always been curious about this topic myself. I can’t tell if the lack of skilled labor in the US is a factor of an information asymmetry (in other words job seekers not knowing enough about available positions), lack of willingness for employers to hand train (meaning not willing to pay money to invest in individuals to gain the skills), or flat out insufficient pay rates.
The thing about tailoring is it isn’t something they teach to a advanced level in any schools. That certainly wasn’t available in my local community college and we have one of the best systems in the nation in Northern Virginia. So where is someone going to get the experience to be skilled enough as stated (in bold) above?
You have to train them. And here is the rub, to train them you have to invest a lot of time and money. And unfortunately the only places where demand would be high enough to do this would be major cities. Major cities like New York, LA, DC, Chicago, San Fran are all hyper expensive to live in. Which means salaries would have to be sufficiently high to entice people to train for such a career while still being able to meet some minimal living standard.
Something tells me because the US lacks the historical tradition of tailoring as part of a national identity (like the British, French and Italians) that salaries in those large cities simply would not be high enough to induce anyone to take on the work. Tailoring is a losing proposition at the current price levels for work and demand/capacity of a tailor.
I love clothes and am fascinated by making them, but I am not going to take a job as an apprentice tailor making 20k max (just a guess of what they would be willing to pay) out of school when starting salaries for IT professionals were 60k+ and climb quickly after that.
The statements from tailors often seem like the US simply isn’t interested in the trade, and shame on us. But the reality is more than likely the economics simply don’t make sense in the vast majority of cases. The opportunity cost for educated and skilled individuals is too high.