Tailoring through Triumph and Defeat

Cutline: Nick Nicolau stands in the front of his business Nick's Tailoring. Photo by Donni Robinson.
Cutline: Nick Nicolau stands in the front of his business Nick’s Tailoring.
Photo by Donni Robinson.

By Donni Robinson

Nick Nicolau, the owner of Nick’s Tailoring in Columbia, South Carolina, says that if he could share one thing with everyone it would be I love you. Nicolau says, “Love is very important. Respect and love for me is the best thing.” Nick’s Tailoring is successful business and customers enjoy the services because of Nicolau’s genuine heart and his willingness to satisfy all customers.

When you walk into Nick’s Tailoring the atmosphere is warm. It is as though you walked into a family member’s house. You will never step foot into Nick’s without a warm welcome from Nicolau or one of his seamstresses. Usually you will see Nick working diligently with a customer that is standing in front of the mirror trying to obtain the perfect fit. He looks serious and focuses heavily on what the customer wants. Though he looks serious, warmness overcomes as soon as you hear him answer the phone or engage in conversation with anyone.

Nicolau’s tailoring career started at the age of 11 when he worked under his father as an apprentice in Portugal. As a child he learned how to create and also how to run a business. Tailoring was essential in Portugal because clothing was not store bought. Instead fabric, lining, thread and all other supplies were sold to make clothes until 1975. In 1975 Portugal transitioned from a dictatorship to a democratic nation and the need for tailors declined. After 1975 everything changed and clothing could be store bought. This drastic change led Nicolau to Massachusetts and then to Columbia, South Carolina in for the warm weather. Nicolau opened Nick’s Tailoring, Columbia, in 1985. Being an apprentice for 9 years under his father taught Nicolau that the quality of work is important and gave him the love to create.

Nicolau loves that his job allows him to create for people. He enjoys making his customers feel amazing. He says, “The most rewarding thing that I feel in myself is when someone sends me a letter and it says thank you very much for what you did. This feels good.” Nicolau takes pride in his work and finds joy in his customer’s satisfaction. He says the time in his life that he felt the most triumphant was in 1990. He says, “My mind was so full of designs and creative styles. It was a good time.”

In contrast to his heightened time in life, Nicolau says that he once felt defeated when life in Columbia reminded him of how unfair people can be. He says, “You used to see some immigrants in the past, but not many today.” Nicolau does not believe that Columbia is always immigrant friendly, and that some people judge immigrants unfairly and that it is important to respect all people.

Nicolau says, “Still people do not believe that I am a tailor, it used to bother me more than now.” There is a difference between a tailor and a seamstress. Tailors are essentially designers and have a lot of talent. It takes years of training and expertise to become a respected tailor. “Some people just do hems in pants and waist inseam, but when it comes to big jobs they do not know how to do it. I do everything from simple hems to wedding dresses,” says Nicolau.

Nicolau believes all people should love first, be kind and respect others. If he were president for a day he says that he would “Be serious, be honest, and be a good person.” He says that honesty and respect are important. He also believes that is it important to be nice to all people. “Honesty is the best key to run a small business or a country,” says Nicolau. He says those aspects are important because corruption in politics exists all over the world, and the aspect that is missing is honesty. “Hate and jealously are not good. A lot of people try to overpower somebody else and I do not like it,” says Nicolau. He believes all people are equal, that people in power should lack bias and sho uld not allow negative thigs to motivate them. He believes people should have others’ best interest at heart. Nicolau genuine heart is one of the reasons Nick’s Tailoring remains successful.

Teresa Ngo, a seamtress at Nick’s Tailoring says, “He is very serious about getting things done correctly and on time.” Ngo described him as serious perfectionist. She also explains that he takes customer satisfaction seriously and never wants to get behind schedule. Ngo says he expects nothing but the best from his employees.

Nicolau’s warm personality is what all of his customers see, but his employees are able to see the side of him that is more serious. To run a successful business you do not have the pleasure to be nice all of the time. To ensure efficiency Nicolau makes sure everyone buckles down and does things correctly.

“I remember one time I needed buttons sewn on to my blazer. I took it on Monday and he had it done by Wednesday,” says Jessica Hosey a University of South Carolina senior. “Nick got it done for me without any complaints. He assured me he could do it quickly. He got it done on time and he charged two bucks,” says Hosey. Nicolau has many loyal customers that enjoy his services and have the ultimate respect for his craft. Lisa Whitener says that Nicolau’s tailoring is an addiction. She says, “It’s like once you have Nick tailor your clothes, you never want to wear then untailored. I had to bring in these pieces now so that they can be ready for my London trip and Christmas time.”

With the holidays quickly approaching Nicolau says this particular time of the year is the busiest. He says, “It’s crazy and you can say crazy because it’s true. Right now I am asking my customer’s to be patient with me. I’m asking for three weeks.” Nicolau says his services are at the highest demand when the weather is changing and around the holidays.

Nicolau enjoys the holiday season and finds peace in the holiday rush around this time of year. He says that his favorite Christmas movie is A Christmas Story. “Yesterday I was talking to a customer and playing with him I said is this frageelay,” says Nicolau “That movie is beautiful and there’s so many quotes.” He says that his favorite Christmas song is the classic Jingle Bells. Although he follows many American traditions, he says for Christmas dinner the Portuguese eat Codfish. Nicolau enjoys eating fish and mixes that tradition with his American ones. Nicolau says that in Portugal around Christmas time, they sell roasted chestnuts in the streets and that people also enjoy various pork products.

Nicolau names this chapter of his life fulfilled. He says “I am fulfilled. Of course I’m still working, but I’m healthy. I do not know when I will retire but I think about it.” Nicolau has everything that he needs and is satisfied with life. He finds happiness by looking at the success of his children, watching his grandchildren grow and feeling the unconditional love of his wife. Although he has ran a successful business for decades what brings him the most joy is love. “Love for me is very important,” says Nicolau.

Robinson is a public relations senior.