Giving Back, One Stitch at a Time
- Laura King
Laura’s Alterations http://www.lauraalterationexp.com/
If you need a simple repair or a custom overhaul of your favorite clothing, Laura and her skilled team make it happen!
Laura King grew up and got her start in fashion design in China. She moved to the U.S. in 2001 thinking she would continue in fashion design but found that learning an entirely new language and culture set her back in preparing for formal interviews within the fashion world. During this period, Laura began to notice that Americans often wore clothes that weren’t properly fitted for their height and shape and the idea of an alterations shop blossomed.
A few years later, she opened her first shop – Laura’s Alterations – in Bellingham. She has now expanded to five locations, in addition to offering limited mobile services. Laura’s shops repair men’s, women’s, and kids clothing but they also do custom-work, including for customers with special needs.
A miracle worker
Customers routinely note the attention to detail and high quality work. “They are very happy, they say every day ‘you are excellent, you do miracle work.’ So, I everyday hear that word. It makes me feel so proud of myself.”
Laura’s design training wasn’t just about abstract technical form and specs, it hinged on a deeper understanding of the individual wearer as well as the context/use of clothing. “In fashion design we have to know static design – we start from pictures. We [also] have to draw and see the people’s personalities and the situation [in which] you have to wear the clothes.” She has expertise in materials and the machines that will deliver the desired result. But it always comes down to the customer. “We can’t only use one ‘standard’ to do all the jobs. We have to base it on people’s bodies and type of clothes. Then, even deeper – like when we do the mobile service in the home – we really have to see the people’s personality…to make them look more attractive and look more successful.” She works with all body types, ensuring people can look their best and that their clothes work for them.
Given that expertise, some friends and even customers have suggested that Laura’s skills are wasted doing repairs and alterations. But she disagrees. “Many people say, ‘you waste your skill,’ but I really enjoy what I do. For me I do this as community service.” One of her customers, for example, has multiple disabilities and uses a wheelchair. Due to the client’s disability, Laura had a difficult time understanding what she said but Laura could see the problem. “I know what I need to do, so I changed the zippers. I just charged only what the zipper cost. So, she cried and said nobody cared about her and I did the job and didn’t charge her much. After that she comes often. So, I don’t think I waste my time or waste my skill because I think God gave me this gift. I just help the people look nice and [help provide] what people need.”
Laura really loves being able to modify clothes for a variety of those needs: accommodating oxygen tanks, garments for those in the hospital needing clothes easily put on and removed, special pockets to hold medicines, and allowances for swollen limbs, etc.
Laura’s desire to give back to the community was inspired, in part, by tragic circumstances. Shortly after their arrival in the U.S., Laura and her husband were victims of an armed robbery. While trying to protect the bag containing all of their most important papers (passports, contracts, lease documents, money), Laura’s ribs were broken, and she suffered multiple stab wounds. But astonishingly, she doesn’t dwell on that part, or the large cross-shaped scar emblazoned on her abdomen. Rather, what she most poignantly remembers is how, in a new country where they knew no one, the local police came to their aid and doctors spent the whole night saving her life. “I knew nobody, but they took care of me. So, you just want to do something for the people.”
Laura is passing on her skills
Laura typically offers training internships in sewing although lately she has been stretched too thin. She likes to work with people who are interested in sewing and have a passion for alterations. It’s a give and take – they contribute their time, and she contributes her skills. For those that are a good fit, it becomes more than an employer-employee relationship. “Mostly the way we work together, we’re more like part of the family. We take care of each other and work really hard. I give them all the rights and they do their job. So, they feel they are free, respected, and cared for.”
She notes that it’s difficult to find experienced employees, especially those comfortable conversing with customers in English. Over time, Laura has found that it’s more essential to prioritize skill over language proficiency as the team can work together to overcome any communication issues.
Making dreams come true
Laura gets requests from aspiring singers, magicians, and pageant contestants and she has to think about the lighting or the movements they’ll need to make. “I have to know what special thing they need and make them look beautiful, gorgeous. That’s my happiest part.”
Laura finds that many people don’t fully understand the sheer magic clothing repair and alteration shops are capable of. When something doesn’t fit quite right or someone’s experienced weight gain or loss, people frequently opt to donate clothes or give them to friends not realizing that a good alterations shop can convert and restyle them, so they’ll be perfectly suited to the individual.
And she’s no stranger to last minute emergencies. Even when she’s about to close shop, if someone walks in (often desperate) with a last minute interview or funeral to attend, she makes it happen. And they show their appreciation. During the pandemic, while Laura and her team began making masks with spare fabric for donation, many customers brought work in just to make sure she had business.
Tearing up as she speaks, Laura notes that many of her loyal customers would bring in sheets, items with missing buttons, or backpacks for zipper replacement. “The zipper is [still] good, they just ask you to change the zipper and want to give you business…. makes you feel ‘really we are together.’ Many people call or will walk by the shop, “They say ‘Congratulations, you’re still open!’ and [it makes you] really feel you are part of this city.” Some go the extra mile sending cards, calling at holidays, and bringing flowers from their gardens.
None of that kindness is lost on Laura “You just feel, we are really there.” Her customers and community are certainly glad that she is.