Former Broadway costume maker stitches a niche in Elk Rapids

ELK RAPIDS – Rachelle Hansen opened her custom sewing business in downtown Elk Rapids last September after seeing a need for sewing services in the area. In just these few months, business has exceeded expectations.

Elk Rapids is a long way from where she was: making clothes for such Broadway productions as Once Upon a Mattress and Les Miserables, and costuming for summer Shakespeare festivals in Colorado and Massachusetts.

While alterations are her primary focus, she’s gearing up for a two-part business. Current services include custom sewing for home, special occasion clothing, and men’s and women’s alterations and repairs. The second part of the business will be a women’s clothing boutique and accessory line.

Hansen describes her clothing line as, “mostly resort wear for around town. I’ve been looking for comfortable items with good fabric quality, and some unique and interesting detail.”

Most of her business thus far has been alterations, but she’s looking to sew bridal and special occasion dresses.

The store is divided into two areas and reflect her plans for a part-retail, part-sewing business. The sewing area has a large cutting board, industrial sewing machine, dress form, mirrors, and an eclectic mix of fabric bolts, threads and other tools of the trade. Set up of the retail area is in process.

Already there is a cozy, nostalgic feel of a bygone era when neighborhoods had dressmaking shops and small specialized clothing stores. When you get to know Hansen’s background, you realize this sense of nostalgia is no accident.

She started out in the business side of the fashion industry in product development, functioning as the middle man between factory and some well-known retailers such as Ann Taylor, Henri Bendel’s and Victoria Secret. This was a fast-paced, detail-oriented business that left little room for creativity.

So she went back to New York University to finish up a bachelor’s degree in history with special emphasis on period clothing.

“I worked as a waitress while going to school; there are lots of theater people who do that. I began to volunteer to help out with costumes, dressing, sewing–anything just to get my foot in the door. I also worked on sewing curtains to help pay for school.”

Hansen scraped together a resume ́and portfolio and went to a costume shop for a job.

“This was a production environment. I learned a lot but had no chance for creative input. There was a second costume shop that did custom work. That turned into an 18-month internship. Eventually I was able to learn pattern making and was involved in making specialized period clothing for Broadway and off-Broadway productions.”

After 12 years in New York and summers on the road, she began to miss family back home in Lansing. While on vacation in northern Michigan, Hansen ran into a high school friend who suggested moving to the area. The idea hit home as the right thing to do and she moved to Traverse City. At first she did sewing out of her house, but found that approach limiting. That’s when the store in Elk Rapids became available.

“I’m really optimistic about the future–although I can’t help but be a little scared. People come in and are excited about my plans. That makes me only more optimistic.”

Rachelle’s Custom Sewing is at 108 Dexter St. BN