Interview: Nicky’s Tailoring
Meet Your Maker: Nicky, Tailor
The first time I came across Nikki’s Tailoring shop was around 2007 when I lived with my father downtown. Nikki’s shop was just one block away and I would always pass it with curiosity as I walked down to Lexington Market. This was before I had taken real steps to launch my own brand and was shy to go in. Fast forward to 2011, my aunt was busy with her own sewing clients and I needed another seamstress to help me produce my samples. Satin and leather varsity jackets were not his usual, but he did a great job. I always remember how friendly and patient he was with me. That goes along way.
This man has intrigued me for years and i finally felt comfortable to approach him for an interview. This one is special. Meet Your Maker: Nicky.
C: I’m more of a behind the scenes person. When you take on the role of fashion designer, you have to step out into the spotlight and it’s just not for me. When I was younger the lifestyle was cool and fun, but now that I’m a bit older it’s just not satisfying.
N: I label myself as a tailor. And as you said, how have I been able to sustain my business for so long at such a level for a long time. It’s really just being honest with people and delivering quality work …it takes care of itself. I’m a behind the scenes person like yourself but I’m [in my business] so if people walk in, I can’t be behind the scenes but as far as going out and marketing and trying to sell my product, I don’t do that. I used to go to seminars and conventions but really and truly, I realized like you said, it’s certain stuff you just don’t do anymore. The longer you are in business the more you learn what you have to do and what you don’t have to do.
I’m into the production side and it’s hard to find labor. As far as me finding tailors and people who can my craft keep up to the standard I deliver to my clients, it’s hard so I just make sacrifices. No one is going to see your vision like you. When I have someone come from D.C. and come to Baltimore to see Nikki, I have to let them see the reason why they traveled that far. Even if it’s just someone leaving the east side to come downtown, I still don’t take it lightly because they passed a ton of dry cleaners on the way. I take great pride in what I do and that’s help my business sustain. If your in customer service or business, and you treat customers fair and honest, they’re going to come. I keep clients happy and I don’t have to market myself, they market for me.
C: I want to go back for a second. You have an accent. Where are you from?
N: I’m from Jamaica. I came to America when I was about 24.
C: Did you come to America voluntarily or for a better quality of life?
N: That’s going to make me get political! When I came to America, I didn’t come to stay. I came here thinking that more opportunity was here. I figured I could spend about two years here, then I can go back to Jamaica and maybe build me a house and setup a nice tailor shop, and with my skills at a young age by 30, all I have to do is maintain. After being here for two years, it was nowhere near my dreams. But when I came to America, I was a tailor. When I first started, I couldn’t even make a jacket. So I used to get a lot of jacket [request] and I used a pattern and modified it for [any size], and I say to myself “man this is stressing the hell out of me” so I decided to go back to Jamaica and learn how to cut jackets.
C: That was my next question. Where or who taught you? What made you interested in becoming a tailor?
N: Aw man that was…when I was 14 I used to go to the fabric store. I used to save my lunch money from school, go to the fabric store and buy my fabric, then I would take it
the tailor and get my slacks made. And I think when I was 15, I said “you know I think I want to learn how to make my own pants.” So when I finished high school, I decided I wanted to learn how to make my own pants. I was an apprentice in a tailor shop in Jamaica. After being there 6 days a week, 8-9 hours a day, and after learning the trade I started working with the guy that actually taught me the trade. He had around 7 tailors and 3 apprentices and migrated to the states somewhere in New York. Orders started coming in and I stopped making for myself and for others. Many people that do not stick to the craft because it’s really time consuming.
C: Yes. I really want to get back into [sewing] but I have to make time for it and get serious.
N: People see me and say “man I want to be like you.” I say nah you don’t want to be like me. You want to have what I have but you don’t want to be like me because being like me come with sacrifices. I have basically sacrificed all my time. Time you can’t get back. So if I spend 12-14 hours in [my shop] everyday, that’s a whole lot of time. So once I get [to my shop] in the morning, I don’t go back outside until I’m ready to leave. Last night I left around 8pm, this morning I got up around 1:30am and I was [in my shop] around 2:30am.
C: You love what you do.
N: Exactly, if you don’t love what you do it’s not going to work and I think that’s why a lot of people get up and go to work and just to get a paycheck. They don’t love what they do. That’s the difference with me, I love what I do. [sometimes I don’t realize how tired I am until I leave here]. There’s so much to do, I never get tired so I just keep going, going, going. In Jamaica, when I was 19, I had my own tailor shop back then and two tailors working with me when I was 21, so I’ve always been an entrepreneur. After [I learned] I have never been under another tailor. I’ve always worked for myself. I don’t know how to do anything else. I stick to what I do, do it to the best of my abilities, and it pays off. I think life is simple, some people just don’t figure it out. I figured it out at an early age and ran with it, advanced with it.
Help is hard to find, good help is hard to find and there’s only so much one man can do. So I say to myself well ‘I know my turnaround time stucks but I’m not going to let them two talk me’. They may say “dude is good but he’s slow”. I’m not slow, I’m busy.
C: Now, about your tailoring shop. I used to live with my dad a block away. I would always walk pass and one day I finally stopped in and you worked on a few jackets for me. How long have you been at this location?
N: 19 years.
C: That’s incredible. That’s a long time. In this day & age, it’s almost impossible to imagine. Just to know that you’ve been able to sustain in Baltimore for that long is incredible. That’s why I wanted to learn more about you.
N; Oh yeah!?
C: I really appreciate craftsmen. As I mentioned [I come from a family of seamstresses] and I always think to myself that they could have done this too, but they don’t have the business mind.
N: So they [sew] inside their basements?
C: Yes. I look at my aunt like she could have been the female Dapper Dan, but she never got into the business side [the way he did].
So, you’ve been able to sustain because your customers promote you through word of mouth?
N: I used to do a little bit of advertisement but now I don’t.
C: I see that you’ve dressed former mayors, governors, or let’s just say politicians. How has that helped you sustain when you’re working with high profile clients.
N: Politicians are seasonal! They come and go. I have clients that just like to look good and they are better [customers] than politicians. I could be wherever I want, but I’ve been here for 19 years because I’m loyal. People have been trying to get mt to move to D.C. for 17 years or so, or PG county or Caton. Again, I’m just one person. Everyone wants me where it’s convenient for them. I somewhat like a household name. Who was I before I was a household name and who helped my become a household name? So those are the people I stay loyal to. I could move to California or Atlanta, people contact me from Dubai but I choose to be in Baltimore.
When I came to Baltimore, I said I wanted to put Baltimore on the map as far as tailoring is concerned. Just like they said Nelly put St. Louis on the map, I wanted to put Baltimore on the map.
C: Thank you for staying in Baltimore. It’s tough…[thank you]. I wont keep you too much longer. Is there any piece of advice or suggestions you can give a young person that wants to be a seamstresses or tailors.
N: If you learn this trade now, by the time you’re 25, you’ll be able to stand alone. You never have to worry about losing your job to a computer.
C: The power of human ingenuity.
N: Exactly. To go back to your question, what would I tell a young person …you have to have patience because this isn’t one of those professions you’re going to get in three weeks or three months. People ask why don’t I take on an apprentice and teach them the trade? One, those [cell] phones are such a distraction they’re not going to focus and you have to want it. And how are you going to benefit me in the long run. Right now I’m at an age in my life where I’m slowing down. To master the craft so you can be an asset to me is going to take you at least 3-4 years. I don’t have that much time. So if you can sew or already a tailor, then I can help you to enhance yourself. People always ask why I don’t teach. I say if I teach, then I have to shut this down. So if there’s a youngster out there who wants to be like me, they just have to want it real bad for yourself you can get it.
C: Will power.
N: Ever since I learned this trade, I never go broke. The good thing about this trade right here, you don’t need a whole lot of money to start up. You need just two sewing machines, a straight stitch and a serger. That’s all I had when I started and now I’m up to 13.
C: A customer just walked in and i don’t want to keep you. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. I really appreciate this and now have some inspiration to keep going.
600 N Eutaw St # A, Baltimore, MD 21201