A tailored career

After trying many jobs on for size, Madison tailor finds the one that suits him best is making others shine.

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Monetti Tailoring on University Avenue is a place where four electric sewing machines replace office desks as workers rip seams, hem slacks, and replace zippers. Proprietor Mario Gahona, 40, took the business over in 2014 from its founder and namesake, Luigi “Gino” Monetti. “We laughed when we first met,” recalls Gahona. “I was Mario, he was Luigi, just like the video game (Mario Bros.),” he smiles. “I love Gino like a brother or uncle.”

Monetti Tailoring has been in business for over 20 years, altering everything from bridal wear to uniforms. On a back rack, garments and draperies hang as a reminder of work needing to be done. There’s an ROTC jacket, several wedding gowns, a faux-fur coat, a University Police uniform, leather jackets, and men’s and women’s suits.

Each has already been pinned to ensure that items are perfectly sized.

Stormy beginnings

In 2002, when Gahona first arrived in the U.S. with tailoring experience, his “dream job” was to work as a server for a Perkins Restaurant and learn English. He laughs about that now.

Gahona shortens the length of a man’s suit jacket from the top, marking the shoulder with chalk, opening and adjusting the seam, and then cutting a piece of fabric from under the collar to raise the coat length.

He did work for Perkins before being hired as a tailor at Marshall Field’s (which was later acquired by Macy’s) in Minneapolis. After agreeing to help out a friend in the roofing business during his off-hours, Gahona soon realized that roofing paid better than tailoring. “I made a lot more money roofing a few hours a week than at Marshall Field’s,” he notes.

In 2006, after storms hit the Madison area, Gahona and his friend moved here to work as subcontractors for a local roofing firm. Unfortunately, they weren’t the only roofers with that idea. “There was so much competition, I lost everything,” he says. “I had to find another job.”

Eventually, he wandered into Monetti Tailoring, met Gino, and forged his career.

Now he runs the shop, manages five employees, and keeps customers well dressed and perfectly fitted. “I’m very strict,” he says of his management style. “I think that’s important when managing, and it helps them learn.”

The employees don’t seem to mind. Anna, a young seamstress from Middleton, has worked at the shop for four years and particularly enjoys the wedding gown work. “In stores, gowns are sold in standard measurements,” she says, but body types differ greatly, which is why tailoring is required to ensure the perfect fit. On any given day, work may require beading or attaching lace. She also loves the variety of work that comes in. Just a few weeks earlier, the shop was asked to alter 53 pairs of khaki pants for the Wisconsin Badgers football team. “We had an assembly line of pants,” Anna laughs.

Martha joined Monetti Tailoring three months ago after working as a tailor for many years in Madison at David’s Bridal and Nedrebo’s Formal Wear. “I love my job,” she smiles, shyly.

Daniel has been with the store three years. He learned to sew early in his life, but alterations, he says, “are a completely different world. This is not something I like, this is something I love.”

Having just earned his GED, Daniel will be enrolling in the fashion-marketing program at Madison College this fall.



Tailoring to Madison

It’s no secret that the Madison area has grown more casual through the years, so wouldn’t the need for tailors be going by the wayside?

Gahona sews, trims, and irons until the suit jacket is properly shortened. He’ll work on the coat’s liner next. “Many tailors don’t adjust the liner. That’s what makes my work unique,” he says.

“You’d be surprised,” Gahona corrects. “What’s changed is the move from formal to formal-casual. Wearing a nice sport coat with chinos, for example, still looks great.” A good tailor ensures that clothes fit and move perfectly with the wearer, but Monetti Tailoring also handles custom work, creates men’s ties from pairs of slacks, and even converts pleated denim jeans into non-pleated jeans.

It all comes at a price, however. “Alterations may appear like nothing, but they take a lot of work,” Gahona says. “People call me ‘magic hands’ because I can do things others cannot do. It’s a lot of responsibility,” and that’s particularly true when making adjustments to high-dollar apparel, such as the gorgeous woman’s winter-white suit dress and matching coat hanging in the back room. Its retail price tag is still attached: $3,999.00.

At this time of year, weddings occupy most of the staff time — from the bridal gown to the mother-of-the-bride dress to the tuxedos. In fact, Gahona says wedding-related alterations and even prom dresses account for about 50% of the shop’s annual business. September usually brings a lot of zipper work on jackets, October and November is a busy time for relining winter coats, and by January, the wedding cycle begins again.

He is particularly proud of his ability to create ballroom bustles for wedding or prom gowns using a series of hooks and eyes that lift a gown’s train off the floor. When done properly, a ballroom bustle will go virtually unnoticed on the back of a dress. “If done incorrectly,” Gahona says, “you can look like a chicken!”

Suitable talent

On this visit, Gahona is adjusting the back of a man’s suit jacket, which he says requires a specific skillset. There are two techniques — the short-and-back and the lower-collar. The former pulls all of the fabric in the back up to make the back shorter, while lower-collar brings the collar lower on a garment. Sometimes these techniques are necessary if a person’s weight fluctuates. Other times it’s just about fitting garments to various body types.

“I don’t sleep at night. I work! I have deadlines to meet.” — Mario Gahona, Monetti Tailoring

“Sewing is the easy part,” Gahona admits. “The hardest thing is knowing when it’s short and back or when it’s lower-collar.” Determining which is one of the first things he teaches his staff.

Hunched over a sewing machine, Gahona marks the suit with chalk. With a seam ripper, he opens the top shoulder seam, adjusts the fabric, and stitches a new seam. “Perfect,” he says. No puckering.

He irons the new seam before snipping a small piece of fabric out from under the coat’s collar. This allows him to raise the back of the coat. “All that headache for one little piece!” he jokes, holding the narrow strip in the air. When complete, he flips the jacket over and begins shortening the jacket’s inside liner. “Many tailors don’t adjust the liner,” he says, “but if you do the outside, you must also do the inside.”

When asked what keeps him up at night, Gahona appears stunned. “I don’t sleep at night. I work! I have deadlines to meet.” In fact, he actually holds two jobs at the business: he’s also a stylist and independent representative for J. Hilburn, an Italian suit maker. “I like to dress well and look good. That’s always been me,” he says, but nothing compares to making others look their best.

“I sell suits as a tailor, not a salesperson,” Gahona explains. “The difference is, I don’t have to convince you with words. I convince you to buy a suit by making you look good in the mirror. The suit must make you look good.

“That’s what I do.”

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