New fashion trends mean more business for a traditional craft

Eduardo Echeverria does his work at a reliable, foot-powered machine that is an antique. A.M. Costa Rica/Andrew Rulseh Kasper

With sastrerias in relative abundance in downtown San José, it is apparent that in comparison with the United States the age old art of clothing repair still holds a strong place in Costa Rican culture. But according to one seasoned tailor, at least a part of his success in maintaining a traditional trade in the 21st century exists not in spite of the quickly modernizing world, but because of it.

A.M. Costa Rica/Andrew Rulseh Kasper A quick zig zag of stiches renders work pants whole again.

Eduardo Echeverria’s one-man clothing repair shop is in the downtown at the Plaza de Los Artes. He said he attributes much of his success to his ability to change his style of clothing repair with the influences of the larger fashion world. The result is that his shop is not only bustling with elderly men looking to have their pants mended, but he claims he has been able to draw a fairly large amount of business from youth who just can’t let go of a good pair of torn jeans.

This started about 10 years ago when torn jeans became commonplace in new stores, sometimes even costing more than their pristine counterparts. Echeverria has become a master in the art of detailed and fashionable jean repairs.
The good prices don’t hurt either when it comes to attracting customers. Apart from that, his biggest workload is shortening pants that are too long for the sometimes vertically challenged Ticos and fixing the result of pants cuffs that have been dragging on the asphalt. To repair a damaged pair of cuffs and properly shorten the pants Echeverria charges about $4. It’s about the same price for the placement of a large patch to fix a hole.

Customer service also has a different feel in a small shop like Echeverria’s. There exists a stronger connection when the relationship is direct between the customer and the vendor. On a sunny afternoon in San José Echeverria hemmed the pants of a loyal customer for free after he stopped in the store during his office lunch to inquire about the work. That’s a far different practice than shipping consumer goods in need of repair back to the factory where it was made and praying they do the job right.

The experienced tailor, who often makes use of his foot-powered sewing machine, realizes he is up against a gigantic industry of quickly made, mass-produced products. Even if a repair only costs a few dollars, that amount can be the same price or more as a brand-new cheap factory garment or used pair of jeans in a used clothing store.

Echeverria said he used to work in the textile industry, sketching different types of fabric and setting the machines to the appropriate calibrations. He learned the work in a specialized course he took in Germany. However, after leaving the field for several years to work in business administration, he tried to return to his previous line of work with fabrics. But he said in just that short time the technology had left him behind.

So he made the decision to open the tailor shop in San José more than a decade ago. Now he can choose his own hours and work at his own pace.

Echeverria’s current job is analogous to the foot-pedaled sewing machine he uses in his shop. It demonstrates how a seemingly antiquated component of society can still find a place in the changing times.

In his own words about the machine.

“It’s old but practical. It never breaks. When it starts to sound ugly just pour some oil on it.”

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