Custom in Charlotte

C.J. Bostrom designs a line of bridal apparel called Erin Grey Couture.
C.J. Bostrom designs a line of bridal apparel called Erin Grey Couture.

Today’s group adds spark and value to Charlotte’s fashion landscape.

We’ll continue to introduce our readers to designers in the region. If you know someone in the business of designing great clothing, jewelry or accessories, we’d love to hear from you: Email

Erin Grey Couture

By C.J. Bostrom; 2400 Park Road; 704-372-3332

C.J. Bostrom, 44, had met many a bride by the time she created Erin Grey Couture, a line of bridalwear featuring separates that can be rearranged into different looks.

The idea for the line was born years ago, when Bostrom bought two separate pieces from White House | Black Market for her own wedding. “I still wear the lace top,” she says. “I was a budget-conscious person. I didn’t want the traditional froufrou dress.”

After years of working with brides at J. Major’s Bridal Boutique (she’s now sole owner, after a partnership with Anna Chen), she realized there was a place in the market for wedding outfits with transformative qualities.

By offering separates, a bride could wear a long skirt at the wedding, then keep the top on but wear a short skirt for the reception. Each Erin Grey Couture design is composed of at least two pieces, and most have a sash, which can make the dress look like one piece.

“Slowly, people come to love the concept,” Bostrom says.

She designs, patterns and cuts her fabrics, then takes the pieces to the seamstresses at Anna’s Alterations to put together. She extensively researches materials because “the only way I can make a profit is to get the best price on fabric. I find things that look very luxurious with a great price point.” The price range for a complete look is $1,500 to $4,000, with the average about $2,500. She uses both silks and synthetics, “so a girl can have something that looks like 100 percent silk but not pay that cost.”

Her first collection debuted at a runway show at Foundation for the Carolinas in 2012, and featured 30 traditional looks. Bostrom showed her second collection, which has more of a red carpet flair, at London’s Mandarin Oriental, during February’s Couture Fashion Week.

Bostrom has averaged 36 Erin Grey outfits a year. Today the line is sold only in Charlotte (it’s one of 15 lines sold at J. Major’s), but she thinks that will soon change. The first trunk show is scheduled for April, and she’s hired a production house in West Palm Beach, Fla., to help with the expected increase in orders.

She wants to keep manufacturing in the United States. When Bostrom moved to this country from Vietnam in 1976, North Carolina was still a leader in textile manufacturing, and her mother worked in a hosiery mill.

“I think of my mother, and I want to support the economy here as much as possible,” she says. “We should value those who come here and want to work.” The moniker is inspired by family, too: Erin is the name of Bostrom’s oldest daughter, and Grey is her youngest daughter’s middle name.

SureFit Suits

By Kevin Vandiver; 1045 Central Ave.; 920-482-7848;

Custom clothier Kevin Vandiver, 27, began exploring the world of fine clothing after admiring his pastor’s tailor-made suit. “I was tall and thin, and by the time I altered a suit on the rack, I’d spent a lot of money,” he says.

Vandiver had an idea: Cut out the middle man and go straight to the source. But he was a college student with limited resources. So he used the Internet to research tailors in Hong Kong, Vietnam and Thailand, checking their claims against governmental review systems and learning what questions to ask. He says he sought quality craftsmanship, safe working conditions and equitable wages. His meetings took place over Skype, email and phone.

When he narrowed the field, “I just had them make me a suit,” he says. “I (ordered) suits that were striped because tailors who can match up stripes very well, that’s how you know they are good at what they do.” He found what he was looking for in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Thailand, and began his business while he was a junior at Winthrop University.

Vandiver learned how to measure at Gregory’s Formal Wear in Rock Hill. He found his niche selling shirts and suits for men and women. In order to correctly fit a client, he takes 25 to 30 measurements, then talks through style choices. First there’s fabric (he says he has access to 10,000), then a litany of preferences, based on taste and what flatters a client’s body type.

Preferences include the number of buttons on the lapel, button height and color, number of vents in the back, and type of lining. His suits also have working buttons on the sleeves, armpit guards, custom monogramming, piping, and customized felt under the collar. He takes a 50 percent deposit, and the turnaround time is four to six weeks.

Vandiver built a clientele in Rock Hill and expanded it while earning his Master of Divinity degree at Duke Divinity School. Now he lives in Charlotte and is the director of family ministry at Christ Lutheran Church on Providence Road.

After cold-calling alterations shops, he met Mai Trinh, who owns Fancy Care Alterations. He started working out of her lobby in July 2014. When a garment arrives from Thailand, Trinh presses it and makes any necessary alterations. He’s grateful she took a chance on him. “She didn’t know me,” he says with a smile.

Vandiver serves 50 clients and sells approximately 10 suits and 20 shirts a month, he says. His target customers are up-and-coming professionals, businesspeople and hipsters. “It’s an investment in yourself,” he says. “This tiny shop allows me to provide the same quality at a much cheaper price than others in the city.

“My skill is communication. ... You have to know how to measure, and know what looks good on people’s bodies, and know the fashion trends so people don’t go around looking crazy.”

Charlotte Custom Couture

By Victoria Johnson; 980-254-8050;

Raleigh native Victoria Johnson, 41, is a CPA by trade, and a dressmaker and designer by choice. She owns Charlotte Custom Couture, where she designs and sews personalized clothing.

She realized she had a valued skill after entering the workplace. “I was able to make something that fit me, and that no one else had.”

She sold her first creation 10 years ago: a bohemian wedding dress made of silk, with a chiffon overlay. Since then, with the help of books and the Internet, she has educated herself on the craftsmanship of fine clothing. “There’s a lot of technique that goes into nice tailored jackets and dresses,” she says. Among her favorite assignments: gowns for charity galas.

Johnson works from home and advertises through a website and Google ads. Most clients come from Google searches or Yelp. What they have in common is that they want something they can’t find elsewhere.

She’s helped mothers of the bride who are determined not to look like grandmothers of the bride. Other clients are tired of shopping because nothing fits. “And then there are people who just want a specific thing and they are willing to pay for it,” she says. “I made a Jessica Rabbit dress for somebody.”

She notes the frequent problem with Pinterest: “The links get lost. They don’t know where to get the item, but that’s it: They love it and they want it.”

Johnson begins each design from scratch, using a commercial base pattern as a template, and alters it as needed. “There’s a limited set of about 10 structures of clothing, and then you play around with the details.” Two to four fittings follow. “There is some investment on the part of the client. But if you are going to spend that time going to the mall, there’s not much difference.”

Cost is based on time, which is determined by the complexity of design and detail. Prices range from $300 for a standard day dress to $500 for a formal dress. Her most expensive piece sold for $1,200. The average turnaround time is three months. She serves approximately 25 customers a year.

Challenges include getting the right fit and sewing with fabric that can be difficult, such as beaded lace, for which she has to hand-walk the machine so the needle doesn’t break.

But such challenges are also part of the fun. “I love fabric. It’s a sickness,” she laughs, displaying a closetful of samples.

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