Sheila Addison-Hall is an entrepreneur and seamstress located in Akron, Ohio. She has always had a love for sewing, but she was not always a full-time seamstress. She used to work full-time in the cargo claims department at Roadway Express until she was laid-off in 2012. In 2013, she decided to start her own business. Addison-Hall sat down with A Magazine to discuss how she turned a bad situation into a booming business.
How long have you been sewing?
“I started sewing in the third grade and by the sixth grade, I was making my own school clothes.”
Are you self-taught or professionally trained?
“I took classes in school.”
Was it a difficult transition from being full-time in cargo claims to having your own business?
“No, because I’ve always done it on the side.”
What services do you provide?
“I do alterations, I replace zippers, I make gowns from start to finish and I try to recreate specialty gowns.”
What was the most challenging part of starting your own business?
“The hardest part is time, time management. When I first started, I had a full-time job, and I pretty much did it on the side. Then once getting married and having children, you have to work around their schedules too.”
Who would you say are your biggest clients church people, prom girls or bridal parties?
“Church people because it is pretty much year-round. Prom is a season just like weddings are seasons.”
How do you build your clientele?
“Word of mouth and for the first time now I’m advertising on Facebook.” (Shear Sheila Designs @ShearSheila)
Do you find it challenging to build clientele by word of mouth?
“No, because most of my clients are either students or church people. When my first ladies go to events and people see their clothes they want to know where they got them. They tell them I did it and word just passes on. And, because there are so many different events in that church category, I am constantly busy.”
How do you determine your prices?
“I try to base the price on the difficulty and the time it takes me to do it. Some dresses look like they will take a lot of time. It ultimately depends on how much work I have to do.”
Do you have to keep up with trends?
“I don’t keep up with them because my clients do.”
Is it hard to procure fabrics being located in Akron?
“Yes, definitely. I have to depend on the internet and hope that when it comes in it is good quality. So far I’ve been able to get everything that my clients want without having to travel.”
How do you go about bringing people’s visions to life?
“When I see the picture, I see details that a lot of clients don’t see. So I try to give them the vision that I see to make sure that what they want I can make.”
How do you make the custom dresses from clients sketches?
“I buy basic patterns when they are on sale, and I use pieces and parts of those to create the dresses that I see pictures of.”
What is a typical busy day like for you?
“I do everything on a first come, first serve basis. And there are always stopping points like for fittings or waiting for fabrics to come in. I work with what comes in first and finish those and then I start the next batch.”
When people ask, what do you say your job title is?
“It’s funny that you ask that because I’m in a Facebook group with a bunch of designers. Some of them get offended when you call them seamstresses. I’ve never considered myself a designer, but I can design. I’ve always been able to bring my visions to life. However, I still consider myself a seamstress. Most designers won't fix zippers or they won’t hem pants but I do it all. So you can call me seamstress, designer or dressmaker. Titles don’t bother me.”
What is your favorite part about being a seamstress?
“My favorite part is making people happy. When I finish with their dress, gown or whatever and, they say, 'This looks just like the picture,' that’s my favorite part.”
Do you have any advice for people who want to do this as well?
“First, you have to love what you do. You have to have a passion for what you do otherwise it gets boring, old and you get tired of what you’re doing. When prom season is here, I am most excited because nothing is the same. If I’m doing dresses for a wedding, I’m not as excited because it’s the same dress six times. You also have to make the time to do what you love. Even working full-time, I loved what I was doing but it wasn’t as easy to stay up until two or three in the morning and be to work at seven. If you have the passion to do it, and you love it you make the time.”