by Vicky Herrera (Published November 18, 2011 in Inquirer 2bu)
Twenty-seven-year-old Abdul Salam is among the first of a new breed of menswear designers in the Philippines. When he’s not going to karaoke bars, hanging out with his girlfriend or checking local fabric markets, Salam is in work mode, 100 percent focused on his menswear label Sir, which specializes in custom-made button-down shirts.
His move into the design world started when he was working at True, a boutique store in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. “My friends there definitely showed me the ropes,” he says.
For six months, he worked as a store clerk, which included mundane tasks, even cleaning the toilet and folding T-shirts. Then, he moved to handling the visual display of the store. Eventually, through hard work, he was offered the manager position, which gave him first-hand knowledge of the industry.
Aside from being an assistant buyer at trade shows and assisting in designing for the label, he also managed a staff. It was a real taste of the managerial and leadership aspect of running a business. “It was the best three years of my life,” says Salam.
His own label
Everything he learned helped him with the next phase of his career. After returning to the Philippines, he continued to practice his love for design and started Sir.
“When I decided to start this business, before I put Kuya Demos (his tailor) on board, I didn’t have anyone but myself. Naturally, I wanted to make it as perfect as possible, so I did a lot of self-studying,” he says.
“I learned things along the way, and I came up with ideas as I progressed.”
Salam doesn’t consider himself a designer or tailor. “I don’t think I ever will,” he reflects.
It’s not the title that matters to him; it’s about creating a great product he can be proud of.
Why did you name your label Sir?
I wanted something that was generic—but in a good way—to a man’s vernacular. I think the name appeals to all types of men from different backgrounds, different age groups, etc. I’d like to believe Sir can mean more than just clothes to guys, 10, 20 years from now. It’s fluid, kinda like Jackie Chan in “Drunken Master.” That’s actually where I got the idea, I know it sounds weird, but it’s true.
What makes a Sir shirt unique?
“This is my shirt. There are many others like it, but this one is mine.” That’s what’s printed on the garment bags of our shirts, and that pretty much sums up what we are about. With regard to fit, we all have our own little idiosyncrasies that make a custom shirt unique. I can have a hundred guys come to the shop, all a size 38 chest, and I can guarantee none of them will have identical patterns, so in that sense, I guess, you can say our shirts are unique.”
What were the challenges you encountered in learning the craft?
I never stop learning. It takes a lot of time and patience to learn a skill. There’s no cutting corners, if you want to do it right. The biggest challenge is making sure a customer leaves with a shirt we are both happy with. I’ve cut over 50 custom-patterns since I started the business in February. I learn something new after every shirt.
Why is the art of custom-making shirts in need of a comeback?
Some folks just know what they want and can’t seem to find it in RTW. Thanks to the Internet, magazines and blogs, people are more informed. They know things about clothes that may not have been common knowledge 10 years ago. Some of my customers have a very good eye for detail and fit; I learn from a customer, and I enjoy that. I love constructive criticism. It’s the only way I’ll get better.
Why did you decide to blog your design and construction process?
People need more than just pretty pictures with good looking people to be impressed by a brand. I don’t think the consumer is easily fooled. We are more impressed by things that are real, things that have substance. Blogging about it is one way to show what we do is real.
What kind of story did you want to tell when you started the blog?
When asked about his acting career and his decision to pursue it, Christopher Walken once said: “If you wanna build a house, build a house.” I want to build a house, metaphorically speaking, and the blog is a good outlet for me to show people how I plan on doing so.
What other items do you think you will branch out to?
I’d like to eventually do summer suits, ties, pocket squares, and barongs. It will be awesome to be able to do everything someday: women’s, kids, furniture—who knows, own my own laundromat. Only time will tell, but I’m working on pants and barongs now.