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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Tailored to Fit

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Within the sphere of fashion, readyto-wear has been popularized as an efficient and economical way to produce garments. Its antithesis, haute couture, incorporates client-requested features made to exact measurements. Milwaukee’s Safronia Ivory, a fourth-generation seamstress, caters exclusively to size 12-plus women from her Northwest Side home design studio, boutique and alteration shop. Currently in full production mode preparing for a photo shoot featuring formal gowns for an upcoming ad in Premier Bride, her neatly cluttered space is strewn with patterns, illustrations and fabrics such as satin, silk, chiffon and power mesh.

How did you determine your niche?

I traveled all over the country shopping from San Francisco to New York to Dallas to Minneapolis hunting for plus-size clothes. Every department store section I came across contained a small rack predominated by blacks, grays and browns. If you are a plus-size woman who is tall, the pants are unlikely to fit. It was depressing but also a confirmation. Everybody needs a tailor!

How does working from home impact your business?

I made an economic decision to move out of my boutique on 72nd and North. The biggest challenge has been the space. I have five employees working on multiple projects with only two sewing machines.

What is your design process?

It starts with a detailed conversation. On one occasion, I paid a visit to a client’s home after assessing her tastes and went through her closet. It was filled with everything she didn’t like. I brought my interns with me, who began sketching. Our goal is to flatter, accentuate and complement what is attractive about her. By the time an outfit is completed, up to four of my team members will have contributed their skill.

Do you have a vision for expanding your operation?

I do not support mass manufacturing that is done overseas. It is important to me to keep the jobs here. I’m not ready to budge on that yet.

What is your experience with runway shows?

Generally, fashion shows do not produce revenue. Securing a professional plus-size model that can pull off runway effectively is like finding a needle in a haystack. My customers come mostly from word of mouth and referrals.

Name two professions besides tailoring that are related to your work.

Psychology and architecture.

What is most rewarding about your job?

Many customers claim, “I’m a plus size, but I plan on losing some weight.” Part of what I do involves education because it generally takes time to reach that destination. Meanwhile, it can eat away at their self-esteem if they do not have a positive body image. My whole purpose is to bring a pleasurable shopping experience back to the plus-size women and make them look beautiful.

What is the source of your passion?

Even though I started sewing at age 9 and made my own prom dress, I fought against this aspiration for practical reasons. I wasn’t convinced I could make a career out of it, so I went into medical sales. Eventually I came back to doing what I love. Inspiration can come everywhere from water to seeing a great handbag. Creating fashion is a connection to my soul. It makes me feel free and complete.

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