The future of the tailoring craft

An interview with Kerstin Specht

Current trends with regard to sustainability, the energy turnaround and times of fast fashion
present the craft of tailoring with many new challenges. Kerstin Specht explains from her point of view as a graduate engineer for clothing technology which competences will keep the tailoring trade fit for the future and how this must be implemented both in training and in professional practice.

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

Kerstin Specht completed a 2-year apprenticeship at a type of vocational school as a clothing technology
assistant and then studied it. She founded a GbR in Berlin and, together with a partner, made historical
garments/costumes to measure for private customers, worked for years as a freelance garment technician and took over the prototype development of small Berlin labels. At the same time, she began working as a specialist instructor in workshops in the creative and textile sector for people with disabilities and workshops of social educational institutions. She has been living in Leipzig for 5 years and teaches manual pattern construction at the Academy Macromedia Leipzig for all training semesters.

E. Csepe-Bannert: The current focus is on the fact that the tailoring craft is hardly being trained in companies and that more and more schools are offering training as tailors. You have exactly this background with your first degree from a type of vocational school. Of course you are not a trained tailor, but can you briefly summarise what you have learned in just 2 years?

K.Specht: Actually, I consciously decided against a classical tailor training, because at that time I had this image in my head of not learning and being taught broad knowledge in a company the way I wanted and should. I also came straight from A-levels and still had the experiences of friends from vocational schools in my head, which put me off because I thought I was wasting time there. What did I learn in only 2 years? We were taught all the important basics and skills of business administration with all the important processes in industrial production, actually very detailed manual pattern construction, industrial processing and also collection design in smaller projects. In addition, the usual subjects such as specialised mathematics and English, and I must admit that I don‘t really remember the rest, as it was a long time ago.

E. Csepe-Bannert: After your studies, you worked in a GbR producing made-to-measure garments for customers. Didn‘t you lack the technical knowledge of a trained tailor?

K. Specht: At that time I already had 6 years of experience in cutting and manufacturing. Yes, the industrial processing is certainly different from the craft. But despite everything, the work has to be clean and of high quality. And the technician also carries out the craft and sits at the sewing machine. For me, I have always seen the great advantage in pattern construction, which I was taught very well in technical training, but unfortunately less so in my studies, because they didn‘t use good lecturers for the basics and later they focused on computer-aided pattern construction, which is industrially oriented. But I also have to say that I was already sitting at a sewing machine at the age of 7 and during my training and studies I did a lot of tailoring in my free time and was able to learn a lot myself. So for me, the step into self-employment was without fear of not being able to serve customers to a high standard of quality. But of course it‘s always a question of type. 

E. Csepe-Bannert: You started lecturing in Leipzig in the field of training. Do you still see the quality of school-based tailoring training today as it was then?

K. Specht: I have completed a technical training with industrial processing, but if the school manages to set itself up in such a way that a tailor also gets the complete spectrum, I think so. Of course, the tailor‘s craft skills will always be in focus and thus underline the profession. But in terms of business management and pattern construction, a journeyman tailor should also have mastered the basics in such a way that he feels confident and could possibly start his own business directly after the training. Professional experience after training is of course no less important, and you never stop learning.

E. Csepe-Bannert: I hear that this is not yet the case. What is currently being taught in the schools?

K. Specht: In my opinion, the subjects are still taught too separately from each other, the basics in cutting are far too little in my opinion, collection design takes up a lot of space, and business administration is rather neglected. One explanation for the separation of the subjects is that the teaching assignments are almost always covered by freelancers for financial reasons, so individual planning has to take place. Of course, this makes it difficult to work with each other, as there is little overlap and there is not always a logical sequence. That is, which lessons have to run when, where do interlockings take place, etc.?

E. Csepe-Bannert: Wouldn‘t it be better to go back to the old model, complete an in-company tailor training course and then go on to get a master‘s degree?

K. Specht: On the one hand, there is a lack of training companies, which have to be of good quality, and a small company can no longer afford the costs of training. On top of that, there is the issue of fast fashion, which puts craftsmanship completely in the background and makes it difficult for a craftsman to set prices and gives him the feeling that he has to justify the amount of work he does.

E. Csepe-Bannert: Would you recommend a young interested person to learn this craft and with what future prospects?

K. Specht: I myself was cured of fashion very quickly and looked for other career prospects. The tailoring craft itself is wonderful and I specialised in pattern construction. For me, my training and studies were a starting point that gave me so much broad knowledge to see the whole thing in a versatile way. With my background, I have worked in a wide variety of industries, as one example: construction assistant in the accounting field. Yes, it had nothing to do with fashion, clothing or the craft and I thought that was good at the time. But through my training, it was possible to simply apply that and exchange the product once. And that‘s exactly what I like to give young people to take away with them: currently, the classic craft is very difficult to carry out on the market. But you first decide on a direction and then develop it over time. You find out in which direction.

E. Csepe-Bannert: What about self-employment as a custom tailor?

K. Specht: Self-employment is primarily a question of type. I myself started my own business with a partner directly after graduating, but quickly realised that when it becomes existential and has to run, it takes away the joy and creativity. That‘s why it‘s good to start as a sideline and keep your back free with one or two other pillars. Self-employment also takes time. In the field of fashion, it‘s already difficult to survive alongside all the other designers, hobby tailors, fast fashion, etc. And very important: if you dissolve your self-employment, we are not talking about failure. You take so much knowledge and experience with you that is never lost.

E. Csepe-Bannert: What is your conclusion on the subject of training as a tailor?

K. Specht: I am definitely in favour of school-based training because I find it more intensive if it is well structured. I don‘t think that a classical training has to be inferior to a school-based training or vice versa. I would very much like that a company does not have to consider training and that the costs for the trainees are taken over and that one has the choice of what one decides. And the awareness in the minds of consumers must change, away from fast-fashion consumption, in order to be able to appreciate the tailoring craft again.

E. Csepe-Bannert: Thank you very much, Ms Specht. Thank you very much for this exciting and informative