Boom or bust, veteran bra maker still holding up

CHENGDU, China Fri Apr 10, 2009 10:57am EDT

1 of 2. Ran Yusheng, a 91-year-old bra maker, makes a bra at the small balcony outside his old apartment home in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu March 31, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Aly Song

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CHENGDU, China (Reuters) - A 91-year-old Chinese tailor is determined to continue making customized bras for his clients despite his advanced age and outdated designs.

"My sons and my daughter-in-law all tell me to stop working," said Ran Yusheng at his stall in the southwestern city of Chengdu.

"But my customers say if I stop, where will they be able to buy such bras? They wouldn't buy those bras from other stores."

Ran and his wife ran a busy bra shop in the heart of the city's commercial capital in the 1940s, but today all that remains of his business is a small balcony outside his apartment.

Bags of cotton cloth, two pairs of scissors and a sewing machine line the small workspace.

Born in 1918 in Suining in Sichuan province, Ran was sent to the provincial capital Chengdu by his father at the age of 15, where he started as an apprentice to a tailor.

In the 1940's, he was sent to make brassieres for a department store in the bustling commercial district of the city, where he started his specialization.

When the department store closed, Ran opened his own shop in bustling Chunxi street. Although he frequently moved premises, the customers always followed.

Despite new and improved techniques, Ran still makes bras the traditional way, sewing and seaming different pieces of cotton cloth made to fit the customer's measurements.

He refuses to keep abreast of modern technology and materials and admits he knows nothing of modern cup size measurements -- preferring instead to trust his eye and measuring tape.

Despite the appeal of a hand-made bra, Ran's daughter-in-law -- who is now his apprentice -- said the designs were not trendy enough for the mass market today.

"Only women in their 40s and 50s are willing to wear such bras. For women in their 20s or 30s, they are not willing because they don't look sexy or beautiful in them," said 53-year-old Zhou Zibi.

Zhou said bra-making was much more difficult to learn than she had expected.

"I can't do the cutting at all. I just can't understand it. Some of the cloth needs to be horizontal and some needs to be vertical. Now I haven't totally mastered that," she said.

Despite the learning curve, Zhou said she is determined to carry on the tradition, but for now Ran is still the boss.

(Editing by David Fox)

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