SO I’ve been meaning to write on this topic for a while now…. and I finally decided to do so after having yet another chat with a top don in the Nigerian Fashion Industry who felt the same way I did about the craziness that goes on around here.  
The first time I was asked this question was on some TV interview a while back and of course I answered the question without batting an eyelid.  😀  But since then, I have asked both new and practising designers the difference between the two terms and it turned out that whilst everyone, more often than not, knew who a designer was, none of them actually got the definition of a tailor.
So here we are setting the record straight…. with of course “The University of Google”, “The Internet Institute” & “The Wikipedia College” to support my claim.

So who is a fashion designer?  

My answer?!


A fashion designer is the creative mind behind any item of clothing, be it a high fashion runway garment or your regular pair of jeans or tee shirt.  They conduct research, develop a concept and vision for the type of person they would like to dress, create a visual image of their concept through sketches (or drapery) and oversee the various design and production processes that bring their sketches or designs to life in the form of a three dimensional garment to fit their muse or intended market.  

In other words… a  fashion designer is the “brain” behind any garment produced.  S/he sees the finished garment in his/her mind, documents it on paper in the form of a sketch (or drapes it on a mannequin) and brings together a strong team of skilled people to assist him in the construction of his idea into a “wearable” or better still “physical” garment.

For example…

…a designer visualizes and turns it into… 

NOW!  Must a fashion designer necessarily have his own clothing line or engage in bespoke services?  Nope.  Must a fashion designer sew?  Nope.  If he has the skills and chooses to, why not?!  However, in my opinion, if he wants to run a proper business, he has no business sewing BUT needs enough knowledge to guide his team.    

Ok… so let’s see how I did.  I always like backing up my statements with research.  

Wikipedia says:  “fashion designer conceives garment combinations of line, proportion, color, and texture. While sewing and pattern-making skills are beneficial, they are not a pre-requisite of successful fashion design.” A-ha! See…?!

And now ON to the JAMB question.  


Who is a tailor?  

This is where most people bungle.  

The usual answer I get is “a tailor is someone who just sews or joins the garment”…or something along those lines.  You know what the problem is?  Many of us assume that the term “tailor” refers to the people many of us love to yell at for wrecking our clothes almost every time.  In fact, more often than not, when one is called a tailor, we consider it a derogatory term.  But the truth is, the word “tailor” has really been abused in this environment.  

In my opinion, to be called a tailor is actually an honour!  Why you ask?  Think of the term “tailored garment”… and go on to think of Oswald Boateng and other Savile Row Tailors.  And tell me why should I not be proud to be called a tailor?!  In fact, look at these images and tell me they are not a far cry from our local definition of tailor.

Images obtained from the web

A tailor, in my opinion, is a true master and “architect” of clothing.  He makes customised clothing, particularly suits and tuxedos for a select number of clients, considering their unique peculiarities and goes through a painstaking process of pattern making and intricate garment construction techniques including handwork and various fittings to come up with an awesome garment with perfect finishing for his, usually, high-end client.  

In fact Wikipedia defines a tailor as “a person who makes, repairs, or alters clothing professionally, especially suits and men’s clothing.”  It says further that “the term refers to a set of specific hand and machine sewing and pressing techniques that are unique to the construction of traditional jackets.”  So we can safely conclude that clothes made by tailors will be very expensive.  They have to be.  I make suits and I know the stress that goes into it and I can’t charge less than a certain amount for mine much less these guys.  I guess we can also add that if you do not make men’s clothing, particularly suits, you should not call yourself a tailor.    
SO I ask… must a tailor know how to sew?  I would definitely say yes …if he has to go through those tedious processes.  But truth is in reality, he probably just creates the patterns (or guides the pattern maker) and passes it on to his production team so he can busy himself with other work.
Ok so now…if our local tailors are not tailors, then what do we call them?  Let’s see if we can come up with an answer by asking some questions.
1.  Do they make customized clothing?  Yes!  Ok, forget the fact that they alter it like 50 odd times… but truth is, every garment needs a fitting before it is finalized.  Note that in the picture, the tailor does a fitting even before inserting the sleeve.   So I really cannot understand why people here are so averse to fitting… like they expect it to be done right the first time.  I actually have the greatest respect for them seeing they can churn out clothes in one day and sort of get it and you guys really should give them a thumbs up!  
2.  More importantly, do they make suits?  More often than not, NO!  
3.  Do they go through the many processes and pay strict attention to detail?  Errrr…. I would say NO!  Very few of them do.  
4.  Do they create patterns? I think it’d be safe to say NO (though I watched an online video once of a tailor who didn’t create a  pattern).  
Ok seeing they do not qualify in 3 of the 4 areas above, what do we call them then?  
I, personally, would call them machinists (or joiners as is the common term here), perhaps even seamstresses (for the females) but definitely not tailors.  However, I have chosen to use a better accepted term here for the sake of blending into the Nigerian Fashion Industry.  I would choose to use the term “local” or “roadside” before the tailor.  Afterall, we need to give them credit for attempting to create customized clothes for their customers every time.   
SO in true primary school debating lingua I conclude by saying:
“Ladies and Gentlemen I hope I have been able to convince you and not confuse you of the difference between a fashion designer and a tailor”.
Thank you! 😀

PS. All pictures culled from the internet.

PPS.  If you liked this article, please share with your friends and those who need the knowledge by clicking on the Facebook, Twitter and Google+ icons below.  Muchos gracias!   MWAH!  😀
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