C. Winston Smith
C. Winston Smith Bespoke Tailoring
How long have you worked as a tailor? How did you get started?
I started this business in 1972, so that’s 51 years this year. I started it when I was 17. Growing up in New York, I remember asking my mom for some money to go buy a suit … When I showed it to her – green checked with yellow and red, a cinched waist, and a big lapel – she broke down in tears. She said, “This is what you bought with my money? No more of my money to buy clothes.” So, I got a job where I got paid every two weeks and would then go buy clothes. I realized that clothes are expensive. One day, I was in church, and a guy told me the city of New York has a program for boys after school to learn tailoring and they only have a few slots. I said, “Yeah, I want to join!” And that was the rest of the story. I came to Chattanooga six years ago.
What led you to create your own business?
Back in the 70s when I started making clothes, I modeled in New York. Besides modeling other people’s clothes, I started modeling my own. People would say, “Wow, that outfit you had on – where did you get it?” I would tell them, “Well, I made it!” and they would then ask, “Can you make me some?”
What does your day-to-day look like?
My day usually involves making patterns for garments, cutting and making suits, shirts, or trousers, and doing alterations for walk-in customers.
What do you love most about your work?
I love seeing the smiles on customers’ faces when their garments are completed.
What skills does a good tailor have?
For me, perfectionism matters. You want to be the best at what you do; whatever you do, you want it to be right.
What type of clothing do you alter?
I do bridal wear, stage costumes, suits, dresses, shirts – anything that can be sewn, I try to do.
Do you have a favorite or most memorable project you’ve worked on?
I have done clothes for folks in the White House, the NFL, and movies. One of my clients that I do stuff for up to this day is Martha Reeves of Martha and the Vandellas. I’ve also done clothing for Reginald VelJohnson from Family Matters.
What advice would you give to someone interested in learning how to sew?
Find someone who is skilled in their craft so that you will learn the correct skills.