Suits and Success
Story By: Rosa Rodriguez
Paco Fernandez never realized his knack for words and social skills would pave the way to entrepreneurship.
Fernandez, a native of Tamaulipas, Mexico, is the owner of Chicago-based Paco’s Custom Clothiers, a hand-tailoring shop.
Before he began his journey to success in the United States, Fernandez assisted his mother working with her in the restaurants she owned in Mexico. Fernandez experienced a unique upbringing. His biological father, who was already married at the time he courted his mother, didn’t know he existed. His mother was also married. Knowing the extramarital relationship would not be allowed in her family, Fernandez’s mother often moved from one Mexican town to another where she opened small restaurants. Both of his parents came from affluent families, with his father serving as governor of Zacatecas.
“I was born into two very rich families, but I grew up very poor,” he said, adding that his mother was disowned from her family after discovering the affair she had that lead to his birth.
Fernandez arrived to the United States when he was 11, settling in Chicago with his mother. He continued his education in the U.S. after two years of elementary school in Mexico, but the educational experience in the United States scored him a striking difference from his Mexican education, one that appeared more accelerated. His inquisitiveness in class led to his teacher becoming frustrated and upset.
“Are you really that stupid that you have to ask so many times?” he recalls his teacher asking him. Fernandez walked out of class disillusioned and never returning.
Fernandez began his employment in the United States as a window washer. His big break came during a sidewalk sale in which his boss asked him to guard the merchandise of the neighboring stores that participated in the sale. His mingling with customers and social skills at the event generated greater sales than any that had been produced in each store.
“I didn’t do anything,” he said. “I didn’t offer anything.”
Fernandez’s ability to interact and connect with others led to a temporary sales position at The Custom Shop, a national chain tailoring business, where he acquired the skills and knowledge that created his pathway to entrepreneurship. He established a career at The Custom Shop where he was employed for 28 years. Positions he held ranged from sales to associate director of training, leading up to another promotion within two years as clothing director.
By the late 90s, The Custom Shop was sold to investors who made changes within the company, prompting Fernandez to explore other business ventures.
“I didn’t like the direction of the company,” he said.
In 1999 Fernandez resigned with plans to enter outside direct sales, but his vision was hampered. A potential partner tried renegotiating a contract both had agreed upon after he discovered Fernandez was unemployed.
“Seriously, do you think I really want to work with you, Fernandez said he told him.
Fernandez, who at the time lived in an impoverished East Chicago neighborhood, reached out to Martin Greenfield, a long-time friend and businessman who advised him to obtain a business license.
Without a name for his business or business plan, Fernandez went to city hall where an employee assisted him in the legalities, paperwork, and naming of his business, all of which presented themselves as daunting tasks for him. After a lengthy and friendly conversation with the city hall employee, Fernandez agreed to name his business Paco’s Custom Clothiers.
Shortly after setting off his company, Fernandez’s connected with Robert Pastrike, former East Chicago mayor and his first customer. Fernandez remembers him as an “extremely well-dressed individual.” The experience was successful for both men. Pastrike, satisfied with Fernandez’s work, arranged for members of the press to cover Paco’s Custom Clothiers for a business feature story. Press releases, photographs and a front-page, lead article in the business section about the shop called the attention of customers.
Fast forward to 2018. Fernandez travels to 19 cities and to Puerto Rico where he has 350 clients. He’s satisfied with the progress of Paco’s Custom Clothiers and its future. His ability to bond with his customers has continued bringing him much success, regular customers, and new clientele.
“I know how to win people over; knowing how to stand out, how to treat people and having charisma,” he said. “I’m crazy, I’m nuts,” he said with a laugh.
Fernandez has started developing business goals for the next five years, including overseas expansion. He currently has customers in Spain and Japan. He’s also training his eventual successor, Fabian Rebollar, an apprentice who has learned the same skills and business savviness that he too acquired at a young age.
Throughout the years Fernandez has continued learning about the industry he’s involved in, learning the trends, new fashion, textures and styles that have appealed to his customers for decades. His work has received accolades and recognition from the Custom Tailors and Designers Association’s fashion shows.
Language barriers, setbacks, and other themes are often integrated into stories of those attempting to reach the American dream, but with luck and his ability to connect with others, Fernandez has continued shaping his business and taking pride in suiting up each customer.
“The first impression has too much importance,” he said. “My job is to make sure that you give a good first impression through the service and quality of the product.”
CONNECT WITH PACO:
Facebook: Paco’s Custom Clothiers