Cisa Kubley, Sew Fitting--New Albany, IN
Where is your business located? Do you work out of a home studio or do you have a brick and mortar location?
Sew Fitting is located in historic downtown New Albany, Indiana (which is about 5 minutes from Louisville, KY). I worked my first two years out of my apartment and over the last seven years I have grown through a variety of brick and mortar locations. We're now in a 2080 square foot building on a prominent corner downtown. This wonderful building is the oldest commercial building in town and was built in 1834 with the back office extension added in 1840. My landlords provided me with a list of every business that has been in the building for it's life and it's fascinating to see the kinds of businesses that preceded me. A few of my favorites were a sewing machine sales business and then a milliner and drygoods store. There's a strong sewing and clothing history to this building and I love that my landlords added me as the most recent tenant on the list!
What kind of work do you specialize in?
I'm a big believer in diversification. In our current business model we are the area's only full-service tailor shop. We offer clothing alterations and repair, including a lot of bridal work, custom clothing including many historical reenactment garments, prototyping for inventors and designers, tuxedo rental, sewing machine repair, embroidery, and simple home decor work. I also teach at a local maker space and am looking forward to expanding that program and hopefully someday using it as a trade school for the sewing and design industry.
Tell me a little about your favorite part of your sewing space.
I like to describe my shop aesthetic as vintage industrial chic. It's a fancy way of saying that I love my all metal machines, custom wooden work tables, and all the exposed brick and woodwork in my 174 year old building. Our space is wide open with great windows and a prime view of our community. It's a wonderful way to feel connected to our town.
Do you work alone or do you share the space with others?
I am very fortunate to surround myself with a really dynamic staff full of absolute characters. Mandi is my part-time administrative assistant and full-time tattooed lady. Allison is my full-time seamstress who never fails to entertain us and puts customers at ease. She's also currently growing our new mascot, Baby Tailor! Brittni is an intern who transitioned into a part-time employee during the spring. We're looking forward to her making the leap to full-time in the spring of 2018 as we ramp up for prom season and Allison takes a step away for maternity leave. Last but not least, we have Bjorn the viking cat and his not-so-little brother Henry to keep us in line. The shopcats earn their keep by tracking down stray bugs that get in when we open the windows, holding down all the comfy chairs so they don't get away, and supervising our work with much enthusiasm. Thankfully they also take their job as official greeters very seriously.
How did you develop your layout?
When we moved to the current building it marked seven expansions in six years of business. We went from 850 square feet to just over 2000 so it was a pretty big adjustment. I kept meaning to make a scale sketch of the space with little paper models of all the furniture and equipment. I really did. I even sort of succeeded. The sketch was made. In reality, the space has got some pretty specific architectural features that dictated a lot of the layout for us. I wanted the staff to have a nice view and excellent lighting when they worked, so all the machines line the wall of windows along the western face of the building. We like to watch Fredric and Lorelei, the groundhogs across the street, as we work. There are several support columns that run down the center of the work room that provided great niches for our ironing stations and garment racks. These created a natural divide between the customer area and the work area while still leaving everything out in the open. There's a great little alcove in the back of the workroom behind one of the dressing rooms, so it made perfect sense to put our supply closets there. Most of the walls in the shop are very old, soft masonry and as such, we can't really hang anything from them. Thankfully, we have beautiful exposed rafters throughout the work room and our industrial look means that the chains we hang garment racks, artwork, and thread racks from blend right in. We're constantly reevaluating the shop set up and this winter will include a rather hefty overhaul of the back office to better utilize the space.
What's the first thing that clients notice about your space?
Usually the cats. Even if the cats aren't there to greet them, customers have either seen them before or heard that we have them and are on the lookout for our furry mascots. We often joke that having work done is the secondary reason that customers come to see us! The most common comments we hear are about the exposed brick wall, the lovely old rafters in the ceiling, and the wonderful lighting. Our shop is quite a visual experience whether it's your first time in or for those of us who are there day in and day out.
What makes your sewing space unique?
I've already talked about a lot of the individuality of our building, but I think beyond the looks and overall aesthetic, our space is unique within our industry. It's certainly different than any other tailor shop I've ever worked in. One of the things that I've found very typical in the alterations industry (and here I'm talking the typical strip mall shop rather than the beautiful home studios that are so prevalent within the ASDP) is that when a client walks in, they are typically confined to a reception area and fitting room. The workroom where the actual work occurs, and often time the workers who are doing the physical sewing, are hidden behind closed doors. This was especially true in the first shop I worked in when I moved to the Louisville area. There were only a few tailor shop staff who were permitted on the sales floor for fittings and the rest of us were kept in the basement workroom, like some kind of little secret. When I opened my business I knew that I didn't want to hide the work area. I am proud of our craft and I love the reactions from clients when they see us working. I am often told that people love to come in to see where the magic happens. I have nothing to hide from my clients and find that having everything on display can have a hugely positive effect on first time clients who may have had bad experiences with other alterations "professionals."