{Interview #12}: Doreen Tan – Textile and Apparel Industry Expert

Doreen Tan is the Chief Executive of Textile and Fashion Industry Training Centre (TaF.tc), Asia’s leading training provider for the textile and fashion industry. Her career has spanned across the private sector, academia and training as well as involvement in government agencies, benefitting individuals and enterprises both at the national and regional levels. She has trained executives from companies such as Club21 (S) Pte Ltd, LVMH Asia Pacific Talent Development Centre and Chanel Asia Pacific Pte Limited, and as Merchandise Director at AMC (known as Target today) she managed a sales volume of US$87 million.

As an International Consultant with International Trade Centre (UNCTAD/WTO) of United Nations, Doreen has completed various projects in the Textiles and Clothing Industry in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mauritius, Romania, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Her husband works in the logistic industry and they have three children aged 16 to 21 years old.

This initiative is part of our 101 Paths to Success series of interviews to gain insight into how successful people came to do what they are doing, and enlighten parents that there is a vast array of occupations for our children to discover. Hopefully it might spark an interest in our children and youths to start their journey of discerning their life’s path.

Doreen Tan

Your qualifications
MBA (Macquarie Graduate School of Management – Sydney)

Describe your job
As the CE of TaF.tc, I am actively involved in initiatives that enhance the industry’s capabilities and capacity development. Since 2004, I have conducted training to executives of MNCs and local companies in the various segments of the fashion industry both locally and globally. Under my leadership, TaF.tc developed the Workforce Skills Qualification Textile and Fashion Industry Framework that covers over 70 competency standards and assessments for the textile and fashion industry. We provide relevant courses for people interested in fashion design, footwear construction and merchandising, from the basics of drafting and sewing to setting up their own store.

Tell us about your career path.
I started working in the textile and apparel industry doing global sourcing for US retailers for 10 years and was promoted to Merchandise Director at the age of 26. I went on to complete an MBA in Sydney and joined Temasek Polytechnic as one of the pioneers to establish the Apparel Design and Merchandising diploma programme. During my 7 years in TP, I was also teaching in TaF.tc and worked part time in Nike and Ghim Li as a trainer and consultant.

How did you find your passion?
When I first joined AMC, my boss was unwilling to teach me everything, especially on costing. There wasn’t the internet then, thus I learned from my suppliers who are owners of garment factories and fabric mills. I used to spend hours learning from these owners and took the initiative to organise visits to their factories, mills, YKK zipper plants and button manufacturers. The manufacturing world never fails to fascinate me. I traveled around the US to meet customers and also traveled widely regionally to source for more manufacturers as factory owners venture to different countries with lower costs.

It was an eye opener as I realized that decisions made by buyers and merchandisers often impact the product process and thus the cost and quality. The most unglamorous work is done in the factories where thousands of workers toil for hours so that beautiful clothes can be churned out. These workers will find work to earn a decent salary to bring home to their families. I was disturbed by the extremely low wage of USD58 per month until I visited the villages with some Korean missionaries where I discovered that the farmers earned much less! It changed my perspective, and whether wages are high or low is quite relative.

Which aspect of your job gives you the most satisfaction?
I get great satisfaction from seeing people picking up a new skill and finding a job.

What does success mean to you?
Doing something that you love and believe in.

Does this job enable good work life balance?
The fashion industry is notorious for long working hours. I remember when I first joined the industry, I used to work till 1 or 2 am doing filing. When I reached executive position, I used to stay up late to call my customers in US which is a different time zone. We only have one life and we do the best we can in this one life. If you are passionate about what you are doing it is hard to draw the line. What is personal and what is official? What is life?

You must be incredibly busy. How do you avoid being burnt out?
I take short vacations, rest and recharge by doing nothing on weekends. I spend time with my loved ones, eat, chill, laugh at mistakes, exercise (although I could do more!), read, attend seminars and workshops.

Are you involved in any voluntary work?
I am involved with Don Bosco Phnom Penh. TaF.tc orders cookies regularly from ASPN and collaborates with PLOVE to conduct classes for autistic adults.

One piece of advice to parents
It is important to teach them values and to allow them to learn as many things in life as possible, especially in music and sports. Make sure your children know that you love them, teach them to be independent, and ensure they don’t grow up with an “entitled” mentality. Inculcate a good reading habit and travel as a family to different countries.

One piece of advice to teens
Give yourself many options by studying hard and getting good academic results. Work part time during school holidays and pick up as many sports and musical instruments as possible. Travel to different countries to open your mind and do volunteer work in third world countries. Allocate time for your family and learn to speak some dialects.

To be a good merchandiser, you must have an eye for detail, very high level of commitment, be reasonably good in maths, management as well as coordination skills.

{Interviews} 101 Paths to Success

#1 – Dr Karen Crasta Scientist Associate Prof at the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine

#2 – Jeremiah Choy Creative Director Sing50 Mega concert at the National Stadium
#3 – Elaine Yeo Musician Singapore Symphony Orchestra
#4 – Chong Ee Jay Cyber Wellness Educator TOUCH Cyber Wellness
#5 – Professor Tan Huay Cheem Cardiologist Director of National University Heart Centre
#6 – Ruth Wan Children’s Book Author Timmy and Tammy series
#7 – Andrea Decruz Media Personality Owner of CINQ Salon & Belmont Flora
#8 – Ebelle Chong Dance Practitioner / Choreographer SSLD:7 in R.e.P 2015
#9 – Dr Phillip A. Towndrow Research Scientist Centre for Research in Pedagogy and Practice
#10 – Christine Teo Mental Health Social Worker Founder of Generation 414
#11 – Peter Draw Artist / Cartoonist 4 Guinness World Record holder

~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~