When Imtaz Khaliq was a little girl she could usually be found with a needle and thread, stitching outfits for her dolls and making soft toys.

By the time she was 12 she was making clothes for her mum and two sisters. Her talent was encouraged at school in Bradford.

Today Imtaz, 44, is one of the country’s top female bespoke tailors, with an international clientele that includes film star Michelle Pfeiffer, singer Dina Carroll, TV presenter Kay Burley and models Tatjana Patitz and Dawn Airey. Last year Imtaz designed weather presenter Sian Lloyd’s wedding dress, which made the cover of Hello! magazine, and she tailors handmade, hand-finished suits for top actresses, models and business highfliers, all from her North London studio. Imtaz has been shortlisted for the national Asian Women of Achievement Awards and appeared in The Times newspaper’s Top 20 Muslim Women Power List. She has been profiled on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, GMTV and in The Face, Tatler and Cosmopolitan magazines. Her collections have been shown in fashion shows from London to Dubai.

An in-demand authority on fashion, Imtaz has judged the Asian Style Awards and is in talks to promote fashion businesses with the government – a scheme she has discussed over lunch with Prince Andrew, no less! She attended the Women Of Influence Dinner at the House of Lords and her story is featured in ‘Moving on Up’, an inspirational book by and for women, launched at Downing Street by Prime Minister’s wife Sarah Brown.

Through her work on the Government’s Design in Education advisory board, and Skillfast, the Skills Council for fashion and textiles, Imtaz helps to develop young talent.

“I was encouraged at school but a lot of young people don’t have that opportunity anymore,” she says. “Dressmaking skills aren’t passed from mother to daughter so much, and needlework isn’t taught in schools like it was a generation or so ago. It’s important that schools recognise that tailoring skills can lead to a career.

“When I started out over 20 years ago I was in the minority in this industry, and women still find it difficult to break through. There’s a 600 per cent over-supply of fashion graduates to fashion demand and the fashion industry feels that the graduates that do make it aren’t properly trained for the job.

“I teach in my studio on a one-to-one basis, which is how tailoring should be taught. I’m teaching graduates who’ve been through the education system and still don’t have industry- level skills. When I left college I was equipped with the skills I needed to set up in business.

“I’m working with Skillfast to address this problem. Ethnic minorities are very poorly represented in the creative industries because of hidden barriers. I strive to be a positive example to young women interested in fashion and I judge various fashion competitions.”

Now based in London, Imtaz returns to Bradford to visit her parents. The mother of a three-month-old baby boy, Mikael, and three-year-old daughter Nissa, she credits her parents – who came to Bradford from Pakistan in the 1950s – with nurturing her early ambition.

She said: “My dad worked in textile mills when he first came here, then set up a launderette business from nothing. He had incredible drive and business sense, he never sat down. He inspired me to build my own business. Both my parents are strong role models. I grew up with their work ethic.

“I went against the traditional role of an Asian woman to work as a tailor and develop a successful creative business. I had to overcome low expectations at school and was determined to succeed to escape this and break away from the traditional role of a woman in an Asian family.”

Imtaz started sewing aged ten. “It was that Asian family tradition of making clothes. I enjoyed it and was good at it,” she says. Is her own daughter showing signs of becoming an accomplished seamstress? “Well, she plays with my tape measure!” laughs Imtaz. “I make outfits for her and she likes to watch me working.”

It was Imtaz’s father’s style that inspired her to specialise in tailored suits. “He was a dashing figure in cream suits. My brothers wore tailored suits too,” she recalls. “I loved 1940s films where everyone wore smart suits. I wanted to create good quality clothes.” Imtaz makes suits for men and women, as well as wedding dresses. Her suits are cut to fit and flatter. “When I started I had this unisex vision that men and women would look the same, now I think women have it better, with more flexible styles and fabrics,” she says. “Suits are a good working uniform. Over the past year or two there have been more feminine styles in the boardroom; women’s suits are more fitted and flattering. We’ve moved on from the Eighties look, all hard and masculine. Working on menswear I find that men like to know, from a woman’s point of view, what looks good on them.”

She says the key to designing for clients is to “listen to them, develop something from their initial idea and make sure they’re happy. I’ve developed my own style, a lot of it’s self taught. You need a flair for knowing what works, what can be both classic and cutting-edge. I love creating outfits for clients who appreciate quality, fit and good design, and I like to transfer this passion to others.”

She met Sian Lloyd at a charity event and was asked to design her wedding dress. “She had an idea of what she wanted but was happy to work with me on it,” says Imtaz. “I designed an outfit for Kay Burley’s 40th birthday party, which was also in Hello! magazine. Men have traditionally used tailors for personal service and attention to detail. I’m doing for women what tailors have been doing for men for a long time.” The current recession has brought Imtaz full circle. “It was exactly like this when I started, in 1991, during the last recession. People went for quality, rather than quantity, and that’s the case now. In recession people have the one suit – but it’s a quality suit.”

After school, Imtaz did a BTec in clothing technology at Jacob Kramer College in Leeds and, as a student, started getting commissions from London. Closer to home, her work caught the eye of actress Pat Phoenix, alias Coronation Street’s Elsie Tanner. “I exhibited some menswear at Harrogate Fashion Fair and she ordered some for her husband, Tony Booth,” says Imtaz. “Years later I met Cherie Blair, Tony Booth’s daughter, at the Women of Achievement awards and told her the story.”

From the ages of 18 to 22, Imtaz ran a tailors shop in Manchester Road before landing a place at the London College of Fashion. “I moved to London to raise my profile but I’d built my skills in Bradford,” she says.

“I went to London determined to prove myself in the fashion world.”

Imtaz spent a period in America, studying at the Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science, and was inspired by trends she spotted in New York. Returning to London, she worked as a personal shopper at Harrod’s for, among others, George Michael. “I made him tea,” she smiles. “The Knightsbridge set used Harrods as a corner shop! I took people around the store, recommending clothes and helping them develop styles.”

After a spell at Harvey Nichols Imtaz started promoting her own collection. Her break came when she was asked to design a suit for Michelle Pfeiffer to wear on Terry Wogan’s chat show. “I was in my twenties and thought that kind of thing happened to everyone!” laughs Imtaz. The suit was sold to a fashion editor who found Imtaz’s business card in one of the pockets. Imtaz ended up in the Sunday Times ‘Next Big Thing’ feature. “Everything took off after that. I moved to Bond Street for seven years. At one point I was running my business six days a week, teaching at the London College of Fashion five nights and studying for a degree in marketing and business.”

Now Imtaz is based in Islington, in premises owned by a tailor in the 1950s. “Coincidentally, my parents’ home in Bradford was also owned by a tailor, long before they moved there,” she says.

Recognised for her trailblazing designs, she’s an inspiration, particularly to young women. She gives lectures to universities and business associations around the UK about her rise to success.

“Girls have told me they went into tailoring because of me, which is very rewarding,” she says. “I broke the mould of what’s traditionally expected of an Asian woman, and set up a successful creative business in a male-dominated industry.

“I try to show what you can achieve through determination and hard work. I’ve never allowed myself to be limited by people’s perceptions.”

* For more about Imtaz’s work visit imtaz.com