Tuesday 25 July, 2017

Trinis Making Waves Abroad: Andrew Ramroop, Master Tailor

Andrew Ramroop OBE

Andrew Ramroop OBE

Andrew Ramroop wears a thimble on his left pinky finger.

The accessory is his connection to his trade, he says, it is part of him.

Ramroop, a Tunapuna native, is celebrating 50 years in tailoring.

A master tailor on London’s famed Savile Row, Ramroop is the owner of the Maurice Sedwell tailor shop and the founder of the Savile Row Academy where he trains tailors from all over the world.

Ramroop, considered one of the world’s finest tailors, received an OBE appointment from Queen Elizabeth in 2008 and is renowned for his ultra bespoke suits which are sold in over 60 countries. American historian Henry Louis Gates, footballer Robin Van Persie, architect David Adjaye, actor Samuel L. Jackson and the late Princess Diana are among the many famous names that have worn his creations.

He had just flown in from Tobago when we met. He attended Leve, the event held at Tobago’s Villa Being by Dr Auliana Poon.  The aim of the event is to create a platform for creative talent to be marketed and promoted to a global market and Ramroop was happy to participate.

“My interest is to be able to build a marketplace for excellence in Trinidad and Tobago that will attract foreign revenue to a global market,” he says of his participation.

Ramroop’s aim is to provide training locally and help develop a manufacturing industry in Trinidad and Tobago to world class standards.

His target market is the NEETs, he says, breaking down the acronym to mean those Not in Employment, Education or Training.

“Not all of us are born to be academics and go on to college and go on to university and do great things. I might add, you may go to college, you may go on to university but a job is not promised. My idea is to provide training here and to develop a manufacturing industry to world-class standards,” he explains.

Ramroop is especially sympathetic to the NEETS because he was one of them.

He knew early on that he didn’t want to attend school, purposely flunking the Common Entrance exam to avoid going to secondary school.

And even though he still got into Hillview College, thanks to his Godfather Stephen Seepersad, who was the Vice Principal, the young Ramroop 'threatened to break Biche' every day if he was not allowed to learn tailoring.

“I wasn’t too keen on school… they didn’t make it exciting, they didn’t make it interesting, they didn’t help you overcome any fears or any difficulty in learning, they beat the hell out of you,” he recalls.

On the road to Savile Row

The young Ramroop was steadfast in his desire to become a tailor. Growing up in poverty, he used to fashion his mother’s pillow cases into pants. His parents sacrificed their meagre income to find him an apprenticeship in Tunapuna where he learned to make pants in six weeks.

But it was at Kissoon Singh’s shop on Frederick Street in Port-of-Spain he learned to make jackets, mastering the craft to churn out three a week for politicians, businessmen, lawyers and salesmen.

It was also there he learned about Savile Row. Singh had trained there and spoke glowingly about the place unknowingly sparking a fire in the teenaged boy he took under his wing.

“You paint a picture in a young child’s mind, unrealistic, but he’s painting a picture in his mind of all the great things,” says Ramroop, confessing that at the time he didn’t know geography.

“I didn’t go to Europe, I didn’t go to London, I went to Savile Row,” he says, noting that the spot in the Hyatt Regency's lobby where we are sitting was where he sat waiting for five hours for the Northern Star ship to take him to London at the age of 17.

“The docks were old galvanised buildings with rafters visible, no fluorescent lights, more those old fashioned old bulbs dangling and it was getting dusk dark and I was sitting waiting and the boat didn’t come because there weren’t any number of passengers to pick up and they didn’t want to pay to come into Trinidad waters so they hired a small boat to pick us up. Golden Ray Apollon was on that boat,” he reminisces.

The journey lasted 10 days. And on August 8, 1970, Ramroop landed in Southampton, England, to start his journey to greatness.

Reflecting on his parent’s decision in 1966 to allow him to pursue his dream, Ramroop says in 2002, when he was conferred Professor of distinction in the field of tailoring from the University of the Arts, he asked his mother what influenced their decision.

Turns out it was a neighbour, a little girl who he confided in about skipping classes that betrayed his trust and set his life’s trajectory.

“I went on and achieved a lot, I grew a business, I was hugely successful but I never knew what happened. She (his mother) told me about this girl and I wanted to meet her, she did me a huge favour,” he says.

He starts recounting his endeavours to find that girl when his emotions overcome him.

“People see the package, they see the exterior they don’t see how you get there,” he says, dabbing tears from his eyes after pausing several seconds.

“I’ve been holding this a long time.”

On Savile Row, Ramroop knocked on several doors before landing a job at Huntsman. He did a three year full-time tailoring degree at London College of Fashion before Maurice Sedwell took a chance on him. Years later when Sedwell decided to retire, Ramroop bought the shop, the first person of colour to own a tailoring shop on Savile Row, and kept the name as homage to his mentor.

Reflecting on his life, Ramroop says the challenges he faced, he doesn’t want others to experience.

“I want to make it easy for them...easier,” he says, his voice breaking.

It’s the main reason he longs to train tailors in T&T and help them to learn how to impart their knowledge as he has done all over the world.

He has submitted two proposals to that end but one to Fashion TT was turned down without explanation and he is yet to receive any response from the Ministry of Trade.

Still, Ramroop is undeterred. In November he plans to hold a three-day fashion event in Trinidad called FAME Caribbean 2k17 bringing together designers from six Caribbean countries with music and entertainment. He plans to invite international media and celebrities to participate.

“The sustainable plan is manufacturing but I want to use my reputation to get people here to write about what we are doing to develop a momentum for fashion in Trinidad and Tobago and the wider region.”