Designing uniforms is her passion

Designing uniforms is her passion

Vocational school graduate is a successful businesswoman & fashion designer.

During the 1960s and fresh out of secondary school, Ms Esther Tay dreamt of studying fashion design in London or Tokyo, but her parents could not afford it.

With her poor school results and left with "no choice", she decided to enrol in Baharuddin Vocational Institute, a now-defunct school for the advertising, fashion and printing trades.

While vocational school was not her dream place of study, Ms Tay had no regrets because it sparked her career as a successful fashion designer.

She graduated in 1971 and seven years later, a line from her label was placed in Tangs departmental store.

She was also the first local talent to export her designs to Japanese departmental store, Takashimaya, in 1992.

As the creative director of Esta, which designs and produces uniforms for companies, Ms Tay is heartened by recent announcements by the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (Aspire) committee to improve the career and educational pathways of poly and ITE graduates.

Indeed, she thinks that her vocational education has helped to provide a strong foundation for her business.

Looking back, Ms Tay, 60, admitted that she would not have imagined herself as a businesswoman and designer then.


Her housewife mother used to make all her dresses and Ms Tay was always interested in fashion so she chose the dressmaking course.

She opted for this course because she did not make the grade for her first choices of study: graphic design or advertising.

Ms Tay recalled: "I didn't do well in my studies and my parents knew that I was obviously not going to university, so they were supportive of me picking up a skill.

"Besides, they knew that it was something that I wanted to do."

She was often inspired in school by her teachers and friends in other courses and picked up the technical skills she needed.

Fresh out of school and bursting with ideas, Ms Tay started working at a haberdashery and textile shop in Tanglin Shopping Centre where the owner let her experiment with the fabrics and trims.

"They sold like hot cakes," Ms Tay recalled with a smile.

It was her first taste of success and she has not looked back since, though there were many challenges along the way.

Estabelle Fashions was wound up in 2003 because of cost pressures.

Ms Tay said: "There are ups and downs in every business, but it is a passion and I enjoy what I am doing, so I am still here.

"Designing uniforms that are unique and befitting gives me a different sense of achievement and fulfilment."

Her company has designed the uniforms of organisations such as airlines, banks and eateries.

As an employer, she has met many young people who are unsure about their path in life.

This is why Ms Tay, who has three daughters in their 20s, thinks that career guidance is important.

The recommendations by the Aspire committee include a national education and career guidance framework that will help Singaporeans decide their education and career paths.

Ms Tay said: "There are some young people who don't know what they want to do with their lives. I think that there are too many cases of students who are living their parents' dreams.

"It is sad because they have spent so much time and money on their education but when they complete their course, they join a completely different industry."

This article was first published on Sept 06, 2014.
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