The future of the tailoring craft

An interview with Angela Ziemer & Adreas Trommler

Current trends with regard to sustainability, the energy turnaround and times of fast fashion present the craft of tailoring with many new challenges. Ms Angela Ziemer from the Federal Association and Andreas Trommler, a fashion designer from Leipzig, discuss which skills will keep the tailoring craft fit for the future and how this must be implemented in training as well as in professional practice.

The interview is conducted by Eszter Csepe-Bannert from “CorEdu gUG - Bildung durch und durch”.

Angela Ziemer describes herself as a passionate tailor and has been working in this profession for over 30 years. She has been training apprentices since 2001 and is the national chair of the tailoring craft in the Federal Association.

Andreas Trommler is a trained tailor and studied fashion design. He has been working in this profession for over 40 years and trained his first apprentices as early as 1984. Today he is no longer a training company, but passes on his profound knowledge as a lecturer at the private Academy Macromedia Leipzig. He is on the examination commission of the Leipzig IHK for needle-and-thread professions and thus always has an up-to-date view of changes in the tailoring craft.

E. Csepe-Bannert: To start our interview, can you give me a brief overview of the current state of the
tailoring craft from your point of view?

A. Ziemer: The fashion industry is huge and the consumer is overwhelmed with fast fashion. Nevertheless, i don‘t have any apprentices who find themselves without a job after their training as a tailor. Whether it‘s work later in the industry, at the theatre or in the craft itself. There will always be clothes and the profession will not die out. Nevertheless, there has to be a change and the trainees have to be given the right and future-oriented skills to find their way in this highly competitive industry.

A. Trommler: For me, the central question is where the journey to become a tailor is going. As the examination commission of the Leipzig IHK, i unfortunately have to note that the number of examinees who come from craft enterprises is strongly declining. This summer alone, out of 22 examinees, only 2 were from a craft enterprise. In addition, the results of school-based training can no longer be considered good. Of
course, the two training paths cannot be compared 1:1 and the abundance and quality of content varies
greatly. However, this doesn ́t matter for the examination, because the examination regulations are not set
up individually and have their concrete specifications and requirements for a journeyman tailor.

E. Csepe-Bannert: Why is it that fewer and fewer companies are providing training and more and more
school-based training is being offered instead? Can the two forms of training be compared at all in terms of content?

A. Trommler: At the Academy Macromedia Leipzig, for example, a rethink is taking place with the new
campus director. I was approached directly to get more involved in this process. Theory and practice have to be more closely linked and made practicable. The focus is shifting back to handicrafts and, even after a school education, journeymen should be able to produce clean, precise and usable work in the sense of handicrafts. However, the academy is a public school and charges a monthly study fee. The Leipzig Opera can be mentioned as a training company in Leipzig, which accepts 2 trainees per year.

A. Ziemer: In fact, there are enough applications, but no more training places. Many companies simply cannot afford to train young people any more. That is a great pity, but it is very difficult today to strike a balance between meeting one‘s own demands as a training craft enterprise and at the same time running a company that at least covers its costs.

A. Trommler: For cost reasons, I have not been providing training myself for 5 years. Precisely for this
reason, not being able to live up to it either to the trainee or to myself and my company. I am aware that it should be the „social task“ of the craftsman to train, because we want to keep our profession, after all. I
don‘t see a trainee primarily as an economic support in the company, because that is not at all possible,
feasible or in the sense of training. Why is it not possible to introduce a training subsidy comparable to the Studien-BaföG in the training sector, so that companies do not have to carry 100% of the load?

A. Ziemer: I am also convinced that this is where the path must lead, otherwise the classic in-company
tailor training will die out. What we promote very strongly in our 1st year of training is working independently every friday on individual ideas. This absolutely promotes creativity and the trainees lose their inhibitions about making mistakes. This is the only way to learn, to gain experience, to become more
confident, to strengthen self-confidence and to reduce fears. But nevertheless, if we want to maintain the
crafts, we have to get the schools more on board and work out a good training structure that can correspond to the classical image.

A. Trommler: I have always handled it in such a way that my trainees could come to me if they were unclear or if problems arose, but in fact always with a proposal for a solution themselves, the subject of personal responsibility.

E. Csepe-Bannert: What kind of incentives can be created to attract more companies to provide training?

A. Ziemer: Of course, companies should train people with a passion for their craft. But first and foremost, it
should be possible to finance the training. Because it is of course not feasible to transfer the costs of
training to the final prices of the customers. It is already difficult enough to explain the price to a consumer in contrast to fast fashion. So this issue also lies with the consumer‘s awareness to distinguish between quality and quantity, which determines the price. It will be a long way and we will not be able to rely on the growth of training companies. But we can give our employees and apprentices an awareness of the craft and its value and rely on the snowball effect to the outside.

E. Csepe-Bannert: Are there any entry requirements to be trained by a company and not to have to go to an expensive private school to learn the craft?

A. Ziemer: Actually, it is the first impression and the enthusiasm for the craft that young interested people
should bring with them. Patience, sure instinct, a feeling for colours and shapes, of course, too.

A. Trommler: And there is actually not a lack of these young people, but a lack of training places. And in the
end, everyone with a journeyman‘s certificate also finds a job in Germany, according to my experience.

E. Csepe-Bannert: How do you see the role of schools in the context of training tailors? With the fact that
there will be fewer and fewer, if any, training companies in the future, what kind of changes will schools
have to go through in order to meet the challenges and requirements of the craft? 

A. Ziemer: Of course, it always depends on how the school is already set up. For later everyday life, english should be taught more intensively, practice must become more intensive and it is very important not to lose sight of business management and to teach it in a practical way. And that‘s where I immediately see the difficulty in the teaching staff. Whereas in a company 1:1 supervision is possible, from the first customer meeting to the last fitting and production, a school cannot guarantee that at all.

A. Trommler: When I teach, I have about 14 students and work hand in hand with a teacher for processing,
which results in 14:2 supervision. The task of the schools must be to teach the craft at a high level, to train the time factor for economic efficiency and thus to reflect the real craft business. This already shows the difficulty of implementation with regard to the mission of the training and feasibility due to the supervision key. In addition to the many schools that have been established in the last five years, I also ask myself why, in view of the high demand, the IHK does not provide training itself, as it does in other craft sectors?

A. Ziemer: I can imagine that the IHK has too few members who can carry this. A second reason is certainly that since 2014 the tailoring craft is no longer listed in Annex A of the guild and thus anyone with a sewing machine can call themselves a tailor, regardless of whether they are trained or not. This legal change makes pricing in particular extremely difficult. We have to justify our prices because there is a lot of competition from hobby tailors who offer their products on platforms such as etsy for very low prices.

E. Csepe-Bannert: Can one say that the professional opportunities are higher with an apprenticeship in a
craft business?

A. Ziemer: Of course, it depends on where you want to go in the fashion industry after your training, what kind of commitment you have and how much initiative you take in your free time. Yes, the value of in-
company training is nevertheless higher due to the direct training (key 1:1).

E. Csepe-Bannert: What I have often asked myself is whether it is possible to become self-employed directlyafter the training with the journeyman‘s certificate? Can all areas from business management to customer acquisition/support and production be covered with this level of knowledge? Or is further training necessary to acquire the missing knowledge for self-employment?

A. Ziemer: Diversity must definitely be practised and learned through experience. Most training companies
specialise, for example, in one product group, so the broad spectrum cannot be covered during the apprenticeship. But yes, you can of course become self-employed with the journeyman‘s certificate. But my
recommendation remains: gain further experience in different companies and learn other approaches and
processing methods.

A. Trommler: I don‘t think it makes sense to start your own business directly with the journeyman‘s certificate, because the knowledge of pattern construction alone is not sufficient for tailoring.

A. Ziemer: I see it that way too. However, since the legal changes of 2014, it is officially no longer necessary
to show cutting knowledge. Even Burda patterns can be used as a basis for work. So you can say that the
term tailor is no longer protected. An additional certificate would be very helpful and useful. 

E. Csepe-Bannert: After the training, does a skilled journeyman have to expect that it will be necessary to
catch up on 1-2 years of missing knowledge in order to finally be paid according to the degree in a job? In
fact, we often get questions from young people and their parents about the future viability of this profession, which we of course always want to answer with a clear conscience and realistically.

A. Ziemer: No, it‘s not like that. With the journeyman‘s certificate you get a lucrative job in a wide variety of
fields and the pay for the degree is commensurate with that. Nevertheless, the journeymen should be
aware that learning does not stop and that only practice will make them more secure and better.

E. Csepe-Bannert: Mr Trommler, you just mentioned cutting construction. Is the teaching of cutting
construction as in the curriculum sufficient or would you like to have more knowledge here? What are your
practical experiences with young graduates?

A. Trommler: The tailoring craft is structured in such a way that the school teaches the basic knowledge and
you only go into depth in the master apprenticeship. Why is that? There is simply too much for the
apprentices to learn in addition to tailoring and it is not easy to teach them without practice. But basically, a kind of quality guideline should be established for custom tailors, hobby tailors and alteration tailors.
Because working with self-made patterns and with Burda patterns should not be mixed up and they also
express different qualities. In the end, the prices set for the customer also depend on this.

A.Ziemer: We, as the national association, are currently working on establishing and defining criteria. The
aim is indeed to have a kind of certificate that shows the respective quality, which would distinguish the
tailor from the different areas.

A. Trommler: That‘s good, because it won‘t work any other way, because at the moment the profession is
very diluted as to what really makes a tailor.

E. Csepe-Bannert: The current trends and challenges are sustainability, the energy turnaround and fast
fashion consumption. What skills will a tailor need in the future to be able to deal with these challenges and changes and to counteract them, or are there none?

A. Ziemer: Small businesses are always aware of changes and take them on board. And there are currently
clear discussions in the national association and externally together, where it is about the presentation of working hours for real pricing as an orientation for the tailors and thus as an official presentation to the customer, a kind of „legal“ prices in the minds of the customers; where transparency among themselves is discussed in order to push for changes. Campaigns by other crafts are already very well positioned, but tailors are still lagging far behind, and this is something we need to change and improve together.

E. Csepe-Bannert: One last question about the future of this profession: Surely this great craft cannot be
threatened with extinction by social changes. Where do you see the tailoring profession in 20/30 years and
where is it heading?

A. Ziemer: I think it will change, but the tailor will still exist. I am 100% sure of that. The majority will go for
an affordable price for the consumer and the rest will cover the high level. It won‘t be easy, but one notices
a relatively positive resonance among colleagues to make a difference and to serve the new generation,
which is there.

A. Trommler: Everybody has to position himself how he wants to present himself. On the one hand, I can
acquire many orders with adjusted prices or i go after desirability and thus on the high level and serve customers and with reasonable prices. Work and working hours must be appreciated, first by the tailor
himself and then by the customer.

E. Csepe-Bannert: Thank you very much, Ms Ziemer and Mr Trommler. Thank you very much for this
exciting and informative interview!