By Katherine Gotthardt
sponsored by Tang’s Alterations
Xiao-Yin Byrom didn’t find out until years later how she was able to go to college to study art, a path that led her to owning Tang’s Alterations in Manassas. Her story is a winding one, with twists and turns that brought her and her family on journeys throughout the world, finally landing her at her current location on Sudley Road.
Born in Laos of Chinese descent during political turmoil, Byrom’s family moved to Taiwan for safety, awaiting the opportunity to come to the United States. After four years, the family was accepted and traveled to Alaska, where they established contracts for tailoring with various military bases. From there, they moved to other stated, and to California. “We moved around a lot,” Byrom says. “We had to follow the military. So it was like living a military life.”
When Byrom graduated from high school, her mother opened another business and asked Byrom to run the family alteration business. But Byrom had dreams of going to college.
Byrom says she told her mother, “‘Mom, I’ll die trying to make sure the shop is going while I’m in school, and it will produce twenty percent more.’ But my mother didn’t think I could do it.”
Byrom’s brother Xiao-Fung Tang stepped in. “My brother came home from college,” she says. “He told everyone he wasn’t ‘college material.’ He told my mother it would be better for him to help me run the business so I could work and go to college. And so I did.”
After college, Byrom thought of going to New York to practice and sell her art. “I realized I had a hard time letting go of my art,” she says. “That wouldn’t work. So I decided to use my art as giveaways for charity. I wanted people who really loved my art to have it,” she says.
Moving to Manassas: Running Tang’s in the Face of Tragedy
In 1999, Byrom came to Manassas. By this time, Xiao-Fung Tang had tired of running the family business in California. He asked Byrom to open the business in Manassas and he would come out later and join her.
“We have a belief that if your name is called, you will never be forgotten,” Byrom says. “So I kept the name of the shop Tang’s for my brother.”
Everything seemed to be on course when Xiao-Fung Tang became ill with cancer before he had a chance to move to Manassas. Byrom went to see him, and while there, she finally realized he had quit college so she could attend.
Byrom went to see Xiao-Fung Tang, and while there, she ran into one of her brother’s college friends. She wanted the full story. “Why did he quit school?” she asked.
The friend told her that her brother was one of the best architectural students in the university. “He told me my brother quit college so I could go,” Byrom says.
Xiao-Fung died within months, and Byrom returned to Manassas and Tang’s. She was devastated. Every day, she says, she honors his memory.
“I will never forget what my brother did. My brother had so much love for everyone. He said, ‘When God sends me to heaven, he wants me to prepare for you. I will build an apartment for our family. Don’t feel bad for me when I die.’
“Sometimes people like to be glorified with what they have done,” she says. “My brother did everything quietly and never asked for praise. I’ve been very blessed with having my brother in my life. He only lived until 36. But every day I come to work and think of him. What I do is to honor him every single day, to serve the customer to the fullest, as my brother served me.”
Byrom keeps a photo of Xiao-Fung at the entrance of the shop. “Customers come in and say hello to him,” she says. “They know the story. I want to keep the shop the way my brother wanted it to happen.”
Beyond Alterations: Every Day a Chance to Serve at Tang’s
Most days, Byrom arrives around 7 in the morning and doesn’t leave until 9 at night. It’s hard work. She’s on her feet, serving walk-ins and appointments, measuring, making recommendations, overseeing her team of professional seamstresses and tailors.
“I see every customer as my brother and sister,” Byrom says. “I take care of them like my family. Of course, I have an incredible staff as well. Without them, it would be like having a head but no arms and legs. My staff is my arms and legs. I tell them, ‘Your opinion is valuable. You are part of the team. When we have a good review, it’s not because of me, it’s because of us.’”
Her approach has been hugely successful. People come from all over the world to have their clothing altered and cared for by Byrom, who sees her work as both art and mission.
“I have loyal customers,” she says. “Some live overseas, then come back for holidays and have all their clothing done at our shop. College students are the same way. I have done their clothes when they were kids, then their prom dress, then their college clothes, then their wedding dress. I get to see them grow up.”
Outside of her long work hours, Byrom makes time for community service. “I used to do charity work by myself,” she says. “But Rotary changed my life. When I discovered Rotary, I had the chance to work with a group and make more of a difference.”
A past-president of Rotary Club of Manassas, Byrom says she was the bus driver. “I had to listen to everyone else and make sure they were in harmony,” she said.
Byrom holds the tenets of Rotary close to her heart. Rotary has a four-way test for thought, speech and action. Members are tasked with asking themselves and each other:
- Is it the truth?
- Is it fair to all concerned?
- Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
- Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
“I used those ideas before in my life,” she says. “Buddhism has the same thing.”
But, she says, “I learned to have a big heart from my brother. I do everything in his memory. He is my inspiration.”
Learn more about Tang’s Alternations at www.tangsalterations.com.
Writer Katherine Gotthardt is Vice President of Content Marketing for Prince William Living and Vice President of Write by the Rails, the Prince William Chapter of the Virginia Writers Club. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.