Custom-clothing trade is good fit for entrepreneur XTC

July 03, 1994|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Sun Staff Writer

Dressing for success isn't easy for Leonard Parrish. He's broad-chested and can't find suits in his size, so he must have them custom-made.

"I can't just pull a suit off the rack," the Bel Air engineer says.

Joe Thurston, 24, of Jarrettsville understands Mr. Parrish's frustration. He, too, has a difficult time finding suits that fit.

"I'm an odd size," says Mr. Thurston, a 6-foot-2-inch entrepreneur who needs a 39-inch-long sleeve. "I would try to buy suits at a really nice men's store, but they couldn't give me what I wanted."

So Mr. Thurston decided to take matters into his own hands. He formed Thurston Clothiers to custom-fit clothes for men and women.

Mr. Parrish, who learned of the new Harford County venture by word of mouth, is the first customer.

"The turnaround time is excellent," Mr. Parrish says. "That's why I selected him."

Mr. Thurston, a Navy petty officer, moved to Harford County a year ago and plans to stay here after his military commitment ends in July.

"But I needed to make sure I had an income coming in," he says.

The custom suit idea appealed to him because of his own difficulty in finding suits. He says he grew up in a family where nice clothes were appreciated.

"My father is CEO of a large company, and my mother always makes sure he dresses right," says Mr. Thurston, a Massachusetts native, who grew up in New Jersey.

His next step was finding a manufacturer to make the clothes he wanted to sell. His girlfriend, who is familiar with the foreign market, suggested the possibility of working with a Hong Kong company.

Mr. Thurston called the British Embassy and was referred to a Hong Kong trade association. He was able to make arrangements with a company called Sitlani. "Their prices are very inexpensive," he says.

Mr. Thurston charges $410 for a custom-made fully lined suit.

"Joe's prices are on the low side, compared with what I have paid in the past," says Mr. Parrish, who has often ordered suits from another Hong Kong company.

Mr. Parrish especially likes that Mr. Thurston comes to his home. "I'm a convenience kind of person," he says.

Mr. Thurston says that he tries to make it easy for his clients. He is the middleman between the customer and Sitlani, which provides the fabric samples and makes the suits. He goes to a prospective customer's house or business with a tape measure and more than 3,000 swatches, from silk to worsted wool.

He takes the measurements, relays the information to Sitlani, and 2 1/2 weeks later a suit arrives, which he delivers.

The clothing business is only one of his goals, Mr. Thurston says.

His quiet, polite demeanor understates a driving ambition that includes politics. He will be running for a spot on the Republican Central Committee in Harford County this fall as a steppingstone to other offices, he says.

He decided to become involved in government, he says, because of the way the school system in New Jersey treated his twin sisters. They were unfairly termed learning disabled, he says.

"I'm getting active so no one touches me or my family, when I'm ready [to have one]," Mr. Thurston says.

He also plans to attend Towson State University in September to major in international studies with a minor in business. After that, Mr. Thurston, a Lutheran, would like to study at a seminary.

But for now, he's content to concentrate on Thurston Clothiers, which he operates out of a farmhouse where he rents a room.

And who is his next customer?

"My dad wants a suit," he says with a smile.

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