Spinning A Yarn With… Lisa Tang

At Dugdale Bros, we love to see long-standing textiles and tailoring traditions being passed on through the generations. Our own story is just one chapter within Huddersfield’s illustrious cloth-making history, so it’s inspiring to see young, talented individuals from the area continuing to drive this narrative forward.

In the second in our series of interviews with some of the industry’s notable figures and rising stars, we talk to Lisa Tang – tailoring apprentice to Paul Jheeta – about how she began her career, who she looks up to and where she hopes to be in ten years’ time…

Where did your tailoring journey begin?

My parents were brought up in the generation where ‘make do and mend’ was very important. At the age of around seven, I loved getting my hands on my grandma’s sewing box. I’d attempt to use the thimbles, wax, threads, pin cushions, needles, etc. – they were like toys for me! She would get me to thread her needle and then teach me how to reattach buttons and repair small holes in clothes.

Mum kept her sewing machine on a table in the corner of my bedroom, where she would alter or mend clothes for the family. I was always very curious about how to use it and tried once when my auntie visited – we attempted to sew onto a piece of cloth, but the thread got tangled around the bobbin case and we thought we’d broken it! Luckily, Mum managed to fix it and – as a result – decided to get me involved in making cushion covers for the living room sofa. Countless washes later, they have endured a good 20 years of wear and tear!

Where did you study?

I studied an Art and Design Foundation course at Loughborough University, which was a great programme! In one group project, we made a dress out of paper, which one of the girls volunteered to wear for a mini catwalk. We also did a lot of illustration classes, which saw us developing our skills in drawing shoes, lingerie and body forms.

From there, I decided to undertake a BA in Fashion Design at Nottingham Trent University. After interning at a few companies in the city, I eventually moved to London for work and decided to study a pre-apprentice bespoke tailoring course at Newham College.

Who inspired you to become a tailor?

During the 2012 London Olympic Games, I worked for a company that altered uniforms for the tech officials and Games Makers. I made a few connections there and one colleague was an apprentice at Anderson & Sheppard. Believe it or not, up until that point I had never heard of Savile Row, and she opened my eyes to the world-renowned tailoring happening on our doorstep. Soon after, I became interested in the techniques involved in bespoke tailoring, which is when I found the course at Newham College.

If you weren’t a tailor, what would you be?

If I hadn’t chosen to study fashion design after my foundation course, I probably would have opted to work in graphic design or illustration. I also love making things, so carpentry or some other job involving the practice and mastery of a craft would have appealed to me too.

Which designers do you most admire?

Cristóbal Balenciaga for his mastery in couture. Christian Dior for his extravagant and glamorous creations. Coco Chanel for her elegant and simple designs. Alexander McQueen for the theatrical excitement he created when showcasing his collections. And I also love Yohji Yamamoto for his androgynous, avante garde style.

Who is your style inspiration?

Paul Jheeta!

Have you encountered any obstacles as a result of being a woman in what many still see as a “man’s world”?

I have yet to encounter any so far – perhaps this is a sign that times are changing and more women are being accepted into the world of tailoring. As with any job, I believe that if we present ourselves professionally, have confidence and possess a good knowledge of the field in which we work, then we should never really be faced with any obstacles.

What is your favourite part of the job?

I enjoy learning how changing parts of a pattern through cutting and making can drastically change the fit on the body, which is especially rewarding when I see the finished product on a customer. And of course, I also enjoy the travel!

Which of your pieces are you most proud of?

I made a tailcoat in my final year at Newham College and was nominated for the Alexander McQueen award at their annual ‘Outstanding Stars Ceremony’. For this garment, I used red and navy velvet and produced a houndstooth pattern with appliqué. It had two eagles on the back shoulders, which I designed myself and embroidered using goldwork technique. The lining was a beautiful deep gold, visible when the underarm seam was unzipped – transforming the coat into a cape hybrid.

The cuffs had some goldwork detail with a frogging button, which could be fastened to the frogging loop attached to the pocket flaps at the waist. I cut a saddle sleeve style for the back of the jacket, merging into a raglan sleeve at the front and creating a very feminine fit. With wide lapels and a standing top collar piped with Russian braid, this detailing continued with a similar type of braid sewn around the waist seam and pocket flaps. There was also a peplum at the waist, with netting used underneath to give it volume. I must admit, there was a lot going on in one garment!

A recent piece that I am most proud of is the first sports jacket I made with Paul – and the first fully bespoke item that I have in my wardrobe. I love the classic tweed fabric and I’m still slightly precious about wearing it – it’s almost like a new pair of limited edition shoes that I’m scared of ruining. 

How important are ethics and sustainability to you?

Ethics are very high on my priority list, which is part of the reason I feel very fortunate to be in the bespoke tailoring industry. I’m aware that the clothing trade contributes to a lot of waste and unfortunately, consumer culture means that we’ll never be able to stop throwing things away entirely.

However, I believe that creating quality garments using natural fibres helps to reduce waste, as clothes last longer and can be passed onto others. A bespoke garment allows for major alteration, so it’s possible to resize it for another body.

Describe your style of tailoring in three words…

Precise, immaculate and chic.

What one piece of advice would you give to anyone wanting to start out in tailoring?

You must have an obsession with creating and sewing. It’s intense and you have to be a patient person who is willing to put in the extra hours. Always be proactive in learning techniques – and keep practising!

What do you hope to have achieved in 10 years’ time?

I wish to be acknowledged in the fashion trade for my skills in tailoring.

If you could describe Huddersfield’s reputation on the global cloth map in one word, what would that word be?