A career as a tailor wasn’t Habib Mohebi’s initial plan.
Mohebi grew up in Afghanistan. By his early 20s, he said, he’d landed an office job at the airport in Kabul, the capital. Then the Russians came. “I was there when the Russians invaded in 1979,” Mohebi said. “If I stay there, I get to go to jail, or die.”
So he fled, along with two of his brothers. They hired men to sneak them out of the country. They crossed the Afghan border near a place where Russian soldiers camped. “Those guys told us, ‘You’ve got to stay inside the house. … If [the Russians] come and see you, they’re going to take you in. If they don’t, we’re going to take you across the border.’”
The Russians didn’t come. Mohebi and his brothers landed in Iran, he said, and lived for 18 months in Tehran. Friends there taught them to tailor clothes. “You’ve got to do something to be busy,” he said.
In 1984, Mohebi fled Tehran and ended up in the United States. He made his way to Atlanta, where his sponsor lived. He arrived with $500 to live on, he said. He found work using his sewing skills. Four years later, he opened his own tailoring business on Jimmy Carter Boulevard.
In 1991, he opened Phipps Tailoring in Brookhaven. He named his business after Phipps Plaza, “because everyone knows ‘Phipps’ in this neighborhood.” He still operates his small shop at the intersection of Peachtree and Ashford Dunwoody roads. Now, at age 59, he makes custom suits priced from $1,500 to $2,500 and sells less expensive, off-the-rack suits from Italy.
Dozens of tailors have set up shop in Brookhaven, Sandy Springs, Buckhead and other communities near the Perimeter area, according to listings on the Internet. Some specialize in alterations of off-the-rack clothing; others offer high-end custom suits made from fine imported fabrics.
Why so many? Business is good, they say. Besides, “it’s a fun business. It’s a business where you make people look good,” said Jiwani, owner of Jiwani Custom Clothiers in Sandy Springs.
Jiwani, who’s 65, grew up in Bangladesh. His family moved to Canada in 1971, where he trained as an economist and worked for a large marketing company, he said. He didn’t like the job. He did like fine clothes. And he wanted to be his own boss. So he decided to go into business selling custom suits.
“I come from a lineage of entrepreneurs,” he said. “I chose this because I love fashion and I love clothes. I love dressing up people. You dress up people and they feel good and you feel good.”
Twenty-five years ago, he moved his family to metro Atlanta to escape the “cold, cold, cold” of Toronto, he said. He set up shop in the garage of his Sandy Springs home. Jiwani Custom Clothiers now operates from the Concourse in Sandy Springs and claims offices in a dozen or more cities spread from Boston to Los Angeles.
Jiwani is quick to say he doesn’t sew the clothes himself. The part of the business he likes is working directly with his customers to find clothes that suit them. “The thing I liked was how to get a tape [measure] around somebody,” he said.
His suits are manufactured in Hong Kong. They cost from $900 to $4,000, depending on the fabric, he said. He meets customers by appointment, moving from his company’s sales room in Florida to ones in New York and other cities. “This is not retail,” he said. “You can’t walk in here and buy.”
He sells service. “What drives a business is a high quality of service,” he said. “A suit is a suit is a suit. They get a taste of the service and a quality product behind the high-quality service…”
His clients include lawyers, bankers, CEOs, he said. “We have clients in very high positions in politics, business and finance,” Jiwani said, declining to drop names. “They all care to look good.”
Mohebi also says that most of his customers are professionals. “In this area, the income is a lot more … People dress up a lot more,” he said
Some come to him because they find it difficult to buy clothes that fit them properly, he said.
Others, he said, just want to look good.