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Sewing or Alteration Business

tikkidog | Posted in General Discussion on

I am a public school teacher wanting to start a sewing and/or alteration and/or design business before I retire from full-time teaching in 7 years.

What is the most successful,rewarding, and/or profitable business that anyone can suggest?

I know that there are many options.





  1. sewornate | | #1

    I ran two sewing businesses and can say that clothing alterations was the most profitable for me.  There is always a clientele for that.  I also made custom drapery for the home decorating industry and years ago did dressmaking. For fun I periodically made items to sell at area craft shows--lots of fun, but you won't get rich.

     I probably did the best with the alterations.  They require less equipment and almost anywhere you live, there is a market for them.  If this interests you get a suggested price list from Mary A. Roehr Custom Tailoring, 500 Saddlerock Circle, Sedona, AZ 86336. The biggest problem with this business is underpricing, and she offers a price list that is updated periodically and can be adjusted easily up or down for the area you live in, if necessary.  She has separate lists for men's and women's alterations.  You can do alterations for local clothing businesses and dry cleaning establishments, too, but be sure you set the prices you get, and don't let the store set the prices.

    The dressmaking, in the beginning was the one I thought I wanted to do, but for me it had the most headaches.  The drapery business, I did for area businesses, and basically working that way, they make the money, you don't.  Later on I struck out on my own and did a bit better that way.



    1. tikkidog | | #3

      Sorry that it has taken me so long to reply to this, but I really do appreciate you honesty and candor.

      I have thought that alterations would probably be my best bet.  My husband has told me to beware of "emotional" brides, and or people that are not willing to pay for services. I love to "work" but want to "retire" from public school teaching in about 7 years, and would really like to have a business established before them.  I know that I would have to do things part itme in the evenings and the weekends

      Years ago, my husband and I thought about starting a business designing and making outfits for choirs, show choirs to be exact.  We backed out because we were not certain that we wanted to do the whole thing with employees, etc.

      1. sewornate | | #5

        I had an acquaintance that also did alterations and she refused to do weddings for the reasons your husband mentions.  I did not advertise.  Only word of mouth.  That would be a good way for you to start because you wouldn't be overwhelmed, especially since you are still teaching.  It builds slowly that way, but may be what you need.  Many of my customers were teachers and you would have those connections.  Why don't you start that way?  Also the source I gave you for a price list has really good books on common alterations.  Getting one of those would be a good thing to have since every once in a while, you may get something you are not familiar with doing, and they outline all common and basic and not so common alterations in it.  Mary Rohr who wrote the books writes from her own personal experience inh tghe business.

        I rarely did weddings because I pretty much had an established clientele and the only weddings I got were people I had worked for in other capacities.  I did a niece's wedding,  making the dresses for the brides maids and the flower girl, but this was a special favor for a special niece.  I did occasionally alter wedding dresses for regular customers. 

      2. KathleenFasanella | | #8

        Years ago, my husband and I thought about starting a business designing and making outfits for choirs, show choirs to be exact. We backed out because we were not certain that we wanted to do the whole thing with employees, etc.This sounds like a lot of fun. Almost like costumes? These days, you don't need to have employees, just hire contractors. I don't know where you live but there are regs in some states (CA!). If you're seriously thinking of designing and producing apparel or sewn products, visit my site (fashion-incubator.com) for the skinny on how the garment industry really works. With over 1200 entries, it's the most popular site on the web for designers. There's also some sewing tutorials (free!) popular with home sewers (welt pockets, bagging, zippers etc).

        1. tikkidog | | #12

          I visited your web site and am quite taken by it.  I want to read more about what you do, as I am very interested.

          Yes, I have considered contractors.  I have had this dream of having my own business for 30 years!!  I am going to be 53 years young next week, and feel like it is never too late to begin. 

          I am not certain where to begin, because it can all seem overwhelming.

          I am presently teaching high school choirs, so I am quite familiar with show choirs and the needs.  There is one, maybe two large companies in my state of Indiana that manufacture most of the show choir outfits for the midwest.  So, if I were to start a "new" company, I have to offer something better and/or different than these other two companies.

          1. KathleenFasanella | | #13

            "I want to read more about what you do, as I am very interested."I've been a pattern maker in the garment industry for 27 years. I'm pretty transparent about processes but of course, can't discuss client work. "So, if I were to start a "new" company, I have to offer something better and/or different than these other two companies".Niche business is where it's at. Don't limit yourself regionally tho. I'd think you should consider selling via the web.

          2. tikkidog | | #14

            Niche business is where it's at.

            any suggestions for this?  I am not certain that I understand.  I am blonde afterall!!LOL

          3. KharminJ | | #16

            Hi, Tikkidog!

            I don't know if you've followed up yet on the "show choir gowns" idea, but "Better Late than Never" still holds ...I just found this thread ...

            You asked "What do you mean by Niche business"?

            It's really about "not biting off more than you can chew" ;) - narrowing down your market enough that you can do an excellent job, serving some particular set of needs and wants for your customers.

            Here's an analogy: You're a Teacher. If you were looking to change jobs, you'd refine your Niche, in order to find relevant openings. If you're an elementary special ed. teacher, that's your current niche. You wouldn't want to spend time and energy applying for high school chemistry positions!

            So, narrow down your target market, in the beginning, so you can market specifically to ChoirMasters or Pastors etc.

            Trying to be "all things to all people" will result in scattered, uninspiring marketing and advertising, which will lead potential customers to say (or think) "They don't know what they want to do! Pass!" and they're gone.

            You might want to offer "no minimum order" or "all natural fabrics" ... though that's veering into "unique sales points". It's all related, and all important.

            Read some more of Kathleen Fasanella's site. She's done a fabulous job of clarifying the behind-the-scenes details of starting and running a sewing business. Here's the link again:http://www.Fashion-Incubator.com

            And another thread here:

            Home base business 4563.1 from awhile back.

            Good Luck to you, and Bright November Blessings!


  2. User avater
    Flax | | #2

    I second the Alterations thing.

    I have run a small alterations business from my home for over 10 years. I offer pick-up and drop-off service through the local grocery store (I live in a small town). My customers bring in their sewing just the same way they bring in their dry cleaning. Every Friday I pick-up what is there, and take the sewing home and bring it back the next Friday. I offer fittings, but it is by appointment and in their home for a simple fee. I would say that in this area it wouldn't be profitable enough to open a storefront, but the way I have things set up I have very little overhead, and business is busy and keeps growing. Besides I am a stay at home mom and the sewing helps the finances and makes it easier for me to stay at home.

    I have an industrial machine so I can do all types of heavy work wear and leather even shoes at times. I also have a spiffy new Bernina that can do just about everything else oh and my serger too. I would like to someday purchase a blind-hemmer but, someday.....

    I worked in a few Alterations shops and learned the trade well, I also have that odd knack to fix about anything - even my car at times except I usually start crying and my husband finishes for me. :)

    I should stop babbling but I have found that alterations can be a very profitable business if it is set up well.

    PS If you are in the USA, PM me and I would be happy to give you a list of good supply sources with the best prices etc.

    1. tikkidog | | #4

      I am in the USA.

      I wouldl like to earn to do fitting and alterations at a pro shop or classes.


      Do you or anyone else know of or can you recommend places? I have taken classes in Chicago and at Cincinnati.

      1. User avater
        Flax | | #9

        Sorry tikkidog, I don't know where you could learn, but I'm sure there would be others that have an input. I learned by working full-time in a tailor shop with 5 other ladies. I was 22 at the time and have fond memories. You could have made a sit-com out of that shop. One of the ladies was an 80 year old Italian grandmother that ballroom danced and drove a 1968 electric blue Camaro. I learned a lot from all of them I really enjoyed that job.

        Edited 1/16/2008 12:00 am ET by Flax

    2. roseytheriviter | | #6

      I would be very interested in your information and resources for Alterations. I am currently doing Alterations from my home.

      1. User avater
        Flax | | #10

        i would be happy to share what I have.Thread: I buy Guttermann thread 1094 yard spools from either Atlanta Thread or Solo slide. I bought the real thread color chart and it is well worth it. I mainly do all my sewing with about 50 colors. I have about 100 but thats because I have been expanding. the 50 colors that I use most have a few of what I call chameleon colors. What I mean is that they seem to blend in to so many different colors that I can match about 10 different olive greens with one color thread. I also pay about $2.80 per spool and I find the quality better that Coats & Clark. chalk: Hands down the PMC Super-Giant ("red box") wax tailors chalk.(Solo) Dont use the cheap stuff though. Irons out, and I have never had a problem with post residue. But for sure don't write CF on the center front of a garment that you are making you will have problems if you do that. :)Zippers: Solo Slide has a very good selection of zippers for replacing in jackets. Quality Zipper does too. They are pretty comparable in price. I'd say that Quality is who I call when I am in a hurry They are MUCH faster to deliver than Solo. Seam Rippers: I get from Solo or Atlanta Thread. I usually pay $.57 a piece since I order about 25 at at time. I go through a lot of them . :)Needles: I buy wholesale through a company that I order from. But Solo is good too. I do buy a lot wholesale since I sell a little retail sewing notions to a local sewing club. That helps me keep my cost down. I know of a dozen or more mail order supply companies that cater to the workroom, alterations departments. I find that ordering my supplies is much cheaper that the local fabric store. Besides you can't hardly find a antique brass YKK zipper in a fabric store. Thats just a couple basics, if there is anything more specific you'd like me to share just let me know...Flax

        1. roseytheriviter | | #11

          Actually this is all good information. I paid part of my way through college doing alterations. My degree is in Apparel Design and Production, but I find that due to my health that I can not go that route. I need to work from home.

          Pricing is always an issue and I did find I was not being competive enough.

          I have not applied to get a wholesale number yet. That is next.

          My business has been word of mouth only. But, I find that I need to do some sort of advertising or marketing to bring in more clients.

          In addition to the alterations I make prayer shawls and scarves and I am adding handbags also. It helps to fill in space when I do not have enough alterations.

          Thank you for your help. Any thing else you can think of would be greatly appreciated.


        2. charm | | #15

          Can you give us the solo slide website and phone number. the tips on chameleon colors threads sound awsome! where do you buy the colors threads the most? the solo or atlanta threads?

  3. Loriz | | #7

    I have a home based business which includes alterations, window treatments and sewing lessons. I have found the lessons to be difficult due to working with all the packed schedules of children and their parents. Due to so many parents working, I find my evenings filled with classes. Being a former teacher, I enjoy teaching the classes but it can take months to get 6 students from the 20 interested that can come on the same day of the week.

    Alterations, on the other hand, are arranged to your schedule and it is something most people need since they do not know how to sew themselves. I hope this helps. Your area of the country can make a difference, too.

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