From Clothing To Art: Three Generations Of Tailoring In D.c. (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Transcripts

From Clothing to Art: Three Generations of Tailoring in D.C.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:42:07
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir. Summer is the time when Washington slows down a bit and takes a moment to catch its breath and smell the roses, so to speak. Well, that's the theory anyway. But then you meet people like Cheryl Lofton, who remembers summers from her childhood spent with measuring tape, chalk and lots and lots of pins.

MS. CHERYL A. LOFTON

13:42:32
Hi, how are you?

SHEIR

13:42:33
Good, how are you?

LOFTON

13:42:34
Good.

SHEIR

13:42:35
Are you Cheryl?

LOFTON

13:42:36
Yes, I am Cheryl. Nice to meet you. I'm sorry, I was just in the middle of...

SHEIR

13:42:38
No worries.

LOFTON

13:42:38
...a fitting so...

SHEIR

13:42:39
Not a problem.

LOFTON

13:42:39
Okay.

SHEIR

13:42:40
Cheryl Lofton, in case you haven't guessed, is a tailor or would it be, wait, like a tailoress?

LOFTON

13:42:46
I get a lot of that, "Are you a tailor? Are you a tailoress? Are you a seamstress?" I don't know. I call myself an artist in a clothing business. I like to make art out of people's clothes.

SHEIR

13:42:56
And here in D.C.'s Shaw neighborhood, that's exactly what she sets out to do as the owner of, "Cheryl A. Lofton and Associates."

LOFTON

13:43:04
Third generation tailoring business, right here in the nation's capital.

SHEIR

13:43:07
Cheryl's grandfather, J. C. Lofton, opened the family's first business in 1939, "Lofton Custom Tailoring," on 5th and H Streets Northwest.

LOFTON

13:43:16
He was the first African-American tailor to ever have an establishment downtown Washington, D.C.

SHEIR

13:43:21
And along with the shop, J.C. also opened a school.

LOFTON

13:43:24
"Lofton School of Tailoring," which he created to have a space for black veterans who came back from the war. They could not get into a lot of the white schools. So he created a trade school so that they could come here and learn a trade and get jobs after the war.

SHEIR

13:43:37
The Lofton School closed in 1970, but the tailoring business kept going strong. Cheryl remembers lending a hand or being requested to lend a hand, I guess you could say, as early as her teens.

LOFTON

13:43:49
In my family, everybody had to be a part of the tailoring business. In summer when kids were out playing, we had to come and help my grandfather in the tailor shop.

SHEIR

13:43:56
That went for Saturdays, too. And by the time she was ready to go study communications at Howard University, she decided, yeah, I've had enough.

LOFTON

13:44:05
Because I didn't really want to come home with threads and strings hanging on me every day, like my grandfather used to come and he'd still have a needle in his mouth and things like that. And I'm like, I'm not coming home like that ever.

SHEIR

13:44:14
But turns out, you can take the girl out of the tailor shop, but you can't take the tailor shop out of the girl. While in college, Cheryl kept tailoring on the side.

LOFTON

13:44:22
I would iron shirts and hem pants and things.

SHEIR

13:44:25
To make extra money. Then her grandfather got sick.

LOFTON

13:44:29
And I did not want our business to go under so I decided that I would stay.

SHEIR

13:44:33
And, yes, take over the business. The original shop closed, but after moving around a few years, Cheryl eventually found this space on T Street Northwest. The block, she says, yeah, it was kind of iffy.

LOFTON

13:44:46
There was a lot of drug activity out here and these buildings had been vacant 15 years or something and no one would come here.

SHEIR

13:44:53
But that didn't stop her and her staff from moving on in.

LOFTON

13:44:55
We just became the anchor for this neighborhood. Other people started to come after that so -- see, other people are still coming.

SHEIR

13:45:02
And coming from all over the D.C. area. In fact, the day I visit, the beep of the front door...

LOFTON

13:45:08
Hey, good morning, how are you?

SHEIR

13:45:10
...brings a bunch of longtime faithfuls, including a hip retro guy from Mount Pleasant who has Cheryl tailor his snappy vintage garb.

LOFTON

13:45:18
I don’t know where he gets them. He won't let me onto his secret yet.

SHEIR

13:45:20
Would you tell WAMU 88.5 where you get...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE #1

13:45:22
Oh, absolutely...

SHEIR

13:45:22
...your stuff?

#1

13:45:23
...absolutely not. Far too large of an audience.

SHEIR

13:45:25
There's a sheik professional from Upper Marlboro, Md. How long have you been coming here?

MS. CAROLYN RHONE

13:45:29
Four years, five years?

SHEIR

13:45:31
Who comes to Cheryl for custom shirts and gowns.

RHONE

13:45:33
Everybody waits to see what I'm going to wear because her gowns are awesome.

SHEIR

13:45:37
Then there's a nattily clad older gentleman from Brookland. Though he actually grew up...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE #2

13:45:42
I learned to play ball right in that schoolyard, right there.

SHEIR

13:45:44
...just a stone's throw from Cheryl's shop. Cheryl said this spot was vacant for a while. The neighborhood was kind of...

#2

13:45:49
Yeah, because after the riots, it was -- like, it went down, you know, but it's on the up-rise now.

SHEIR

13:45:56
And Cheryl's playing a big part in that up-rise. In January, she opened a shoeshine shop next door to the tailoring shop. And one day she hopes to start a dry cleaning business. So you're kind of taking over the block?

LOFTON

13:46:07
I would like to, but since you put it out there, yes, yes. Yes, one day we would like to take over the block.

SHEIR

13:46:13
But in the meantime, Cheryl is more than happy to continue the Lofton Family's proud legacy, by nipping a little here, tucking a little there and all the while, making art out of people's clothes. To take a little photographic tour of Cheryl's tailor shop, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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