Quality lands thousands of customers across the country.
by Michael Puente
On August 17, 1999, Paco Fernandez resigned from his job at the Chicago clothing company where he had worked for 28 years.
At the time, the native of Tampico, Mexico was living in East Chicago.
He set out to start his own clothing company to take advantage of the knowledge and experience he had gained during three decades in the business.
But being in the working class city of East Chicago, Fernandez had to decide whether his clothes should be based on price or quality.
His wife Mary offered her advice, “Look where we are. You should focus on price,” Fernandez recalled. “But that didn't make sense to me. It doesn't matter where you are. Quality should always come first.”
Fernandez set out to prove his wife wrong by offering the best hand-made garments in the country. “Then, I'll worry about the price,” he says.
Just a week after setting off on his own as Paco's Custom Clothiers, Fernandez secured his first customer.
But not just any customer.
It was Robert A. Pastrick, then the mayor of East Chicago.
Fernandez recalls Pastrick asking if he could send out a press release. “I actually didn't know what a press release was,” Fernandez says.
Pastrick assured Fernandez not to worry.
A few days later, stories about the Mayor purchasing a suit from a locally-owned clothier made for big news in the local newspapers.
“That's how my business took off. My phone didn't stop ringing for the next three or four months,” the 61-year-old Fernandez says.
Today, Fernandez has some 3,500 customers all over the country.
He's constantly on the move, traveling weekly to places like Atlanta, Miami and Houston to meet with clients whom he provides with top of the line clothing for casual, business and formal events.
They include some of the top bankers, lawyers and doctors in Northwest Indiana to celebrities such as former Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen and former Chicago Bear Otis Wilson.
For many, the starting price for one of Paco's suits of $695 may seem a bit steep.
But for the high-energy, bow-tie-wearing Fernandez, it's really not.
“I focus on three things. Service, quality and price. I'll give you the best finished product and search for the best fabrics,” Fernandez says.
When you go to a chain clothing store, they'll offer you a few fabrics with a price range of $300 to $400, not including alternations.
Fernandez offers 200 fabrics to choose from, including those from England, Italy and China.
Then, the suit is custom-fit to the client.
“If you can afford a suit off the rack, you can afford me,” Fernandez says.
But in keeping with Fernandez's philosophy of quality before price, Paco says of a customer who may be undecided about purchasing a suit from him or a chain store, he has this trick.
“I don't give you the same product at less money. I'll give you a product of the same price but better quality,” Fernandez says. “My garment is a lot better.”
Fernandez says dressing well is especially important for college graduates who are looking to get an advantage when seeking that first job.
“First impressions make a world of difference. The first 30 seconds are critical,” Fernandez says. “If you don't make a first good impression, you may not be able to take the second step.”
Fernandez runs his firm with a partner. He has an office in Highland and downtown Chicago.
While the suits are all finished in Chicago, the major pieces are put together by Martin Greenfield Clothiers of New York City.
The 87-year-old Martin Greenfield, considered a master tailor, provides suits to President Barack Obama and former president Bill Clinton, along with a long list of celebrities.
“Martin Greenfield makes the best hand-finished garments in the United States. That's who makes our clothing,” Fernandez says. “He taught me everything there is to know about the clothing industry. He told me the day you stop learning, get out of the business. And I'm still learning.”