Here is what you need to know about tailoring in Bhutan
Bhutan continues to train tailors in both traditional Bhutanese tailoring and western dressmaking.
The long-cherished tailoring tradition of Bhutan
Tailoring, known to the Bhutanese as Tshemzo, is one of the 13 traditional Bhutanese arts and crafts. To the Bhutanese, crafts are more than just an expression; they are a connection to the spiritual, an integral part of culture, and a stepping stone towards enlightenment. That is how the Bhutanese view Tshemzo.
Tailoring is offered as a course at the College of Zorig Chusum. Those who enrol in the course learn all the nitty-gritty of tailoring, including cutting and sewing cloth pieces.
It goes without saying that the syllabus teaches the students to sew all the traditional Bhutanese costumes, including the Kira, Gho, Tego, and Wongju.
Opportunity for tailors during the COVID-19 pandemic
Although there are many talented tailors in Bhutan, the locals prefer to seek out Indian tailors, thinking of them as more experienced.
However, when the COVID-19 pandemic happened, the borders closed. People were not able to find even basic tailoring services and this caught the attention of a few women in Samdrup Jongkhar. They recognised this as an opportunity and decided to open a tailoring shop.
Prior to this, they worked from home but the lack of advertising meant that they were not getting many customers. With this in mind, they established the Samjong Community Pelyoen tailoring shop. The tailors of the shop were trained at the Community Learning Centre.
Nonetheless, the women were worried that as the borders opened, they might lose customers to foreign tailors. Nonetheless, they are determined to work hard and provide the best service they can, hopefully gaining the trust of customers.
Tailoring course for His Majesty’s secretariat
Tailoring has been recognised as a viable way to earn a living.
And for the civil servants in Bhutan who appreciate the value of tailoring, now is their opportunity to perfect their stitches, thanks to the specialised tailoring course launched by His Majesty’s Secretariat for its support staff. The goal is to equip the employees with new skills.
His Majesty the King has expressed his concern about the civil servants’ lack of financial security post-retirement. Those from the Elementary Service Personnel (ESP) and General Service Personnel (GSP) categories are particularly vulnerable.
Thus, he encouraged the various agencies to train their employees with skills that could be used to earn a living later on in life. The tailoring course is one such endeavour. On top of that, it is the organiser’s wish that the course would encourage lifelong learning among the employees.
The tailoring programme will use resources from the HOPE royal project, which conducted basic tailoring courses for the wives of military personnels. With all the structures already in place, this course could be conducted in minimal time and cost.
70 people will participate in this three-month-long course starting August 2022.
Learning western dressmaking
While the Bhutanese recognise tailoring as one of the sacred arts and crafts, as of 2020, only about 15% of the tailors in Bhutan were skilled in tailoring western garments. This is unfortunate, as according to Yeshi Tenzin, a Bhutanese tailor who has been trained in western dressmaking, there has been an increase in enrolment into the military and DeSuups. The country has been importing their uniforms thus far. Hence, Yeshi Tenzin sees this as a potential avenue for the Bhutanese tailors.
A three-week training programme in 2020 has given the Bhutanese tailors confidence to tackle this new challenge of producing western garments. The training programme was conducted in Damphu, Tsirang by trainers from the Lekdrup Skills Development Institute in Thimphu. The participants learned to sew trousers, uniforms for the armed forces, uniforms for technical training institutes, and nursing uniforms.
20 participants participated in the course. They came from Gelephu, Tsirang, and Dagana. Of the 20, 12 were female. The participants had at least three years of experience in the tailoring business so they already had the foundation.
One tailor who has benefited from the training is Cheten Norbu, who is a Zorig Chusum graduate who specialises in national costumes and religious items.
Following the training, he decided to expand on the services he offered his clients.
Cheten Norbu is just one example of how from Tshemzo to western dressmaking, the Bhutanese tailors are on a roll.