AN INTEREST in all things related to ancient Chinese history led a self-taught tailor to start a full-time business making traditional hanfu four years ago.
Tee Sing Yee, 27, has been interested in Chinese history and culture since the age of 19, when she picked up the Chinese tea culture, wushu and playing the guzheng (Chinese stringed musical instrument).
When she first heard of hanfu, an ancient Chinese costume, Tee fell in love with the history behind it and decided to use the attire in her daily life.
She started the tailoring business at her home in Permas Jaya, making the costumes for both her own use and for sale, after acquiring the skill from a teacher from China who gave talks in Johor Baru.
“I found the traditionally long and wide sleeves impractical for everyday wear in Malaysia’s hot weather.
“I took the liberty of shortening the sleeves and switching the traditionally-used linen and silk for more breathable material.
“The changes I made were not without objections from other ancient Chinese history enthusiasts, but the changes were meant to help promote the hanfu as a practical and convenient attire, ” she told StarMetro.
But Tee has made it a point to maintain the key essence of the hanfu, ensuring that the top shirt was made of four pieces of cloth to symbolise the four seasons; and the skirt was made from 12 pieces of cloth to reflect the number of months in a year.
Since starting in 2016, the mother-of-one’s creations have gained popularity and she receives orders from both local and international customers.
Around 30% of her sales are from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
“My business has always been conducted online where design consultations are done virtually, so I have no problem easing into the new norm in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I usually guide my customers to take their own measurements and make design suggestions based on their preferences and body shape, ” she added.
Tee’s journey as a tailor is not without its challenges.
“At first, I made mistakes like miscalculating the measurements as I was not exposed to the various body shapes.
“Luckily, my customers were very understanding.
“I also provided them with free alterations and they have repeated their orders since, ” she said.
Tee takes about three days to complete a hanfu if she spends seven to eight hours a day on the job.
She now has four assistants who handle the tailoring and customer service while she handles the patterns and designs herself.
“After promoting the attire for the past few years, I have noticed an increase in awareness and orders from young families.
“Towards the end of last year, I received orders for about 30 to 40 sets a month as people geared up for Chinese New Year.
“The orders were mostly for the whole family, who wanted to wear similar attire for the festive season, ” she noted.
Tee’s customers are mostly working adults in their 30s and 40s.
Her garments are priced from RM170 for a shirt and RM350 for a hanfu set (shirt and skirt).
She has also introduced vests and dresses inspired by the hanfu and wants to explore ancient Chinese menswear soon.
Tee said learning to sew the hanfu was only the start, as she planned to open a Chinese tea room this year and hold traditional handicraft workshops.