Buzzing blind hemmers and the soft sounds of needles will soon grace the streets of downtown Moscow. A new alterations business, dubbed Altered Ego, is scheduled to open to the public May 19.
The owners of the business, Sara Holden, Chelsey Byrd Lewallen and Caitlyn Johnson, moved Altered Ego into 208 S. Main St. Suite 3 Thursday and tentatively expect to host a grand opening celebration June 7.
Altered Ego is first and foremost a clothing alterations business, though its owners do plan to offer sewing classes as well. Alterations can be made not only to clothing, but also to other fabrics such as outdoor gear.
Holden said sewing classes and events involving clothing — such as a prom dress swap — will include the Moscow community in the business’s day-to-day life.
Altered Ego’s owners plan to take on interns after a year of being open to the public. University of Idaho students will be provided workspace to use the machines at Altered Ego.
Holden, Lewallen and Johnson recently won first place for their Altered Ego business plan in the small business track of an annual business plan competition called Vandal Innovation and Enterprise Works. The competition featured 35 participants.
The VIEW Entrepreneurship competition took place April 26 and included more than $20,000 in prizes in three tracks: innovative ventures, social entrepreneurship and small businesses. Holden, Lewallen and Johnson’s reward included a $4,000 cash prize.
A panel of six judges read Altered Ego’s 30-page business plan and asked questions about it. The cash reward will aid in investment for Altered Ego. Lewallen said it would be nice to purchase a few new machines for the shop.
A major component of their business plan focuses on sustainability, which Lewallen said she has a deep passion for.
“I feel like a lot of people are aware of the (sustainable) food movement, but less aware of the damage that textiles produce and just the intense amount of waste that goes in,” Lewallen said.
According to Lewallen, approximately 25 billion pounds of textiles are produced each year in the United States. She said 15 percent of those textiles are donated and recycled, leaving 21 billion pounds to end up in landfills. That equates to approximately 70 pounds per person going into landfills, Lewallen said.
“We feel that, at Altered Ego, we might be able to make an impact locally,” Lewallen said. “(We) hope to spread the word of the sustainable textile movement by people just altering what they already have, renewing or reviving their wardrobe.”
Lewallen said upcycling also plays a role in sustainability. The process of upcycling involves taking a clothing item and reproducing it to create a new, altered product. Through classes provided on location, the owners of Altered Ego plan to teach the Moscow community how to upcycle their clothing.
Johnson said the business will grow even more within the next few months and that she sees no problem sustaining the business.
Johnson said she hopes within 10 years Altered Ego is still around and that the owners will open in more locations. A national franchise isn’t off the table, and, according to Johnson, it’s something the owners really want to do. But, Johnson said, there are fears when opening a business.
“A lot are afraid to open, because they’re afraid to fail in one way or another,” Johnson said. “It is scary, but I’m not afraid of us failing — I am, however, afraid that we’re going to be a little short-handed.”
Lewallen said she also has fears for starting a business. Lewallen said she already has at least four people asking her for alterations each day, and said she is fearful they will have so many alterations to provide that they won’t get the alterations back in a timely fashion.
“I am most fearful that we will have more business than we will know what to do with,” Lewallen said.
Lewallen and Holden said people don’t want to do alterations and that it’s not a glamorous job. Lewallen said alteration jobs can get difficult, often requiring the worker to take the garment apart and put it back together.
Lewallen got started in the alterations business when she had an alterations business out of her home for three years called Little Byrd Alterations. It was an effort to produce income while she stayed home with her daughter. Because of this home business, Lewallen was able to stay with her daughter for the first year and a half of her life.
“That was really great, because I got to do something I loved while getting to stay at home with my daughter,” Lewallen said.
Holden and Lewallen also have a background in theatrical costumes. Lewallen worked professionally for nine years, while Holden worked professionally for four. As an undergraduate, Holden worked with UI theater department, building and designing costumes.
Last summer, Holden worked as a costume intern at the Theater at Monmouth in Maine. Byrd worked at the same theater in Maine, years before knowing Holden. Lewallen sewed professionally for theater companies in multiple states and with freelance designers. And for a single day, Lewallen was Elton John’s seamstress. Lewallen mended Elton John’s hand-painted, $20,000 jacket.