Local Custom Clothier & Fashion Designer, Michael Iji, Adjusts to New Path for Business During Covid
The year 2019 was drawing to a close and couture designer, Michael Iji, was making plans to build on new momentum and refocus his passion for sewing on his own shirt designs come 2020. After a disappointing loss of opportunity at New York Fashion Week, business took an surprising upswing at the twelfth hour and it looked as if the master tailor and alterations specialist had turned the tide. There was a buzz in the air about his shirt designs and although the NY runway was momentarily fleeting, that surge in business had him looking up.
He was hopeful that the surprising flow of traffic would continue and build into the new year, and for the first few months it did. But Covid-19 was the boom heard around the world and as such, the previous year's plans and growth came to a crashing halt.
As a service provider predominantly, he had been working the alterations side of the business with some intermittent custom work, but this hands-on interaction with clients could not continue as the virus began to rage locally and across the country.
In line with national protocols and state mandate, the doors of the Michael Iji Custom Design & Tailoring Studio were unceremoniously closed in March 2020, with Michael initially believing the word that it would possibly be just a week or two. With bated breath, he waited each day for the signal to reopen but it would be months later before announcement would come.
Meanwhile, he looked around the shop behind closed doors for busy work, cleaning & sanitizing doors and countertops, while making arrangements for customers with completed alterations to come retrieve their garments by appointment only - meeting them at the door and accepting whatever payment they may have had available.
With a mad rush on toiletries, cleaning supplies and the like, Michael turned away from the negatives of the situation and jumped on the idea to use material designated for bow ties or pocket squares as covering for face masks, filling them in with one of the most durable interfacings from Nigeria as a filter. These masks were in great need, and he gave many to neighbors and clients for free - especially any front-line workers - before switching to a nominal fee-based version.
Somehow, despite being a most tumultuous year and one of the most challenging ever experienced in life (even after the hardships of life in his homeland including crossing a treacherous, death-dealing desert alone as a teen), Michael Iji emerged from 2020, and now 2021, still in business, again with the hope of crossing into a better year with great expectations.
With familial obligations and ever strong passion for his craft as his motivations, plans remain in place to scale his business and get it running like the well-oiled machine it would have been by now. Though things did not come together in these past two years as anticipated, Michael Iji says you shouldn't count him out just yet.
"The best is yet to come. I truly believe that. We are listening to our customers, getting sound advice from professionals and laying out the blueprint for sustainability, exciting change, and a new path for the business. There are so many that have lent a hand to make sure we not only stay in business through Covid-19, but also thrive. It's been hard to swallow because our greatest desire is to use our talents and resources to help others, but it has been a welcome blessing to have others give a show of support to us as well. It means a lot! And I know the future is going to be amazing! Just watch out!"