Nayantara Banerjee, aka the Williamsburg Seamster, has accidentally found herself the go-to tailor for hipsters getting hitched—sort of. Her studio, on the fuzzy border between Greenpoint and Williamsburg, puts her in prime real estate for the kind of brides who scour sample sales, want to alter vintage dresses, and who aren't afraid to order a dress online. While a traditional bridal shop would offer an in-house tailor, these brides need to source their own perfect fit. And that's where Nayantara comes in.
We trekked up to the Seamster's Kingsland Avenue studio—right by the McDonald's near the BQE, a far cry from a Madison Avenue atelier—to find out how she found herself owning the bridal alterations market of North Brooklyn. After the jump, Tara's design background, tips on alternations that can—and can't—be done, and lots of before and after pictures.
You have a reputation for working with "hipster brides." How did you find this niche?
I don't know if I sought out "hipster brides" particularly, but I got that nickname from Refinery29, which I thought was really cute and really cool, but this is just the area where I lived—the Williamsburg, Greenpoint area. I've lived here for about seven years and now this is my sixth year in business.
My initial idea in setting up the Williamsburg Seamster was to provide tailoring services for the people in the area. I think a lot of people around here have reached a marrying age, so people that I was already doing regular alterations for started thinking of me when they needed their wedding dresses altered. It just really happened naturally—there were so many more people of a marrying age here because there's a high concentration of young adults in a sense.
What's your background in design?
I've been interested in fashion design from a very young age and pursued it through a class in high school [which was] basically home-ec extended. I had teachers that taught me how to read patterns and fit patterns so that they fit myself. I made all of the dresses for my dances and things like that, and for friends.
Then I studied fashion design at Syracuse University, which was awesome and had a technical approach [and focused on] garment construction, actually, which lends itself a lot to design in the end. Then I worked for a custom women's clothing company, so I kept learning about fit and precision, as opposed to just designing for manufacturing. Then I had an internship with an evening wear designer, Robert Danes. He has a following in women who go to balls and wear beautiful silk gowns. He has an architecture background and just interning there, I learned a lot more about intricate construction.
How did you build your business?
I left my job at the custom women's clothing company and started working at BurdaStyle.com, an online sewing community where you can download patterns and read how-tos on the site and upload your creations and share. That was a great job—just creating content, like how-to's and patterns and things like that. I was sewing a lot more and friends kept asking me casually to alter things. I was young, like 23, and I wondered if I could make this a job on its own.
I started with word-of-mouth only and I don't do any active marketing, but I do have a Yelp page and I have had sort of sporadic but consistent press. For each bride, I usually get three referrals. At a certain age, I feel like if someone is getting married, then they have a few friends that are also getting married. I think it's also because I usually encourage them to bring a friend or a bridesmaid with them if they can. It's nice for them to have a friend, some wine, and they can hang out and look at the dress together. Especially toward the end, when it's more about how it's going to be bustled or how it's going to be closed or something like that, it's nice that they can see it with someone. And I think [the guest of the bride] remembers that, so when it comes time for [their wedding], they remember me.
When it comes to wedding dresses, why do brides-to-be come to you?
My expertise lies more in modern cuts and more of a stylish bride—less so than a traditional one, although I have altered all kinds of dresses. I find that my clientele comes [with dresses from all over]. Some of the more popular bridal shops, like Lovely Bride in the West Village, is a big one that my clients use. Beholden is another big one. And then, of course, David's Bridal, Pronovias, sample sales. A lot of it is just finding the right sample point and making it work.
So they are bringing you dresses from sample sales, online orders, and off-the-rack?
Yes, so, you basically try on dresses in sample sizes that are big, and then [the dress shop] orders a size that would best match you, but they're basically stock sizes. Wedding dresses are always ordered to be altered. They usually take your biggest measurement and order off of that, if they're the right salesperson and they know how [the alterations are] done.
What are some realistic—and unrealistic—damages you can work on or alterations you can make?
It can be tricky. If you're buying off the rack, there are some things that can't be done with the seam, but can be done with clamping and pulling [used by sales associates to demonstrate a better fit]. It can be hard for me to explain how things can't be done, what is doable and what the salesperson may have said is doable. And I've been doing this a lot, and I'll work out different ways to fix problems, but there are certain situations there's only so much that you can do.
Most of the work that I do tends to be with fitting. Taking in a bodice is doable more or less depending on the size of the woman and the dress. What does get a little more difficult is the contouring of the bust, especially if there's a lot of embellishing or boning right on the bustline, and if you don't fill out the bustline there, it can be a little awkward.
I feel like everything is made a little long in the shoulders, and that is not fixable on a strapless dress. That length issue tends to be little tricky and the dress needs to be shaped then in a way that isn't necessarily ideal for the grain of the fabric. Bust area fitting is really important. Waist, hips, and below can be tailored a little more simply. The biggest thing for most people are the hips—and that's just how our bodies are proportioned. Just go with something that you're comfortable with on a day to day basis, and don't stretch it.
When you're trying on strapless dresses, make it as snug as humanly possible. Generally, strapless dresses need to be snugger than normally comfortable to start and then your body kind of relaxes into it throughout the day. The open space can be a little overwhelming for some people—they feel a little naked or open. There are many other options besides strapless, and I feel like people think that they have to get a strapless, like it's the only option for weddings, and it's absolutely not.
If there's a strapless dress, I can add straps or a draped sleeve. Hemming is always fine, and if the dress has something to it that makes it difficult to hem it from the bottom, it is occasionally possible to hem it from the waist and raise it. I don't encourage that for many dresses because it changes the shape of the hips. It's about getting something that fits your bust and then I can help it fit your waist. Once it fits your waist, it's awesome and it's great and you feel like you have a shape.
How much time should you allow to have a dress reworked?
Realistically speaking, three months before the wedding. At that point, you should be seeing your seamstress.
Do you think you're filling a void for these brides?
I can only say yes due to the amount of requests that I am fulfilling. I think there is something that I am offering, and I don't think it's just being cheaper than a place on Fifth Avenue. What people seem to like is that I'm a young person and I can just hang out and talk, and I understand the things that a modern bride might want, whereas more traditional tailors might not come to the solution as quickly or be as easy to relate to.
For brides, if they're with their families or they're doing a lot, or mom's around, it can be overwhelming and they can be talked into something that they may not want. Here, I just try to go over all the options in a really laid-back environment and enhance you, not change you. I think that's something that I might be providing that other people might not.
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