Growing up in Detroit, Andrew T. Porter had an early education in men's fashion. The son of a minister, he recalls admiring the Sunday best of his father and members of the congregation.
In his neighborhood, "there was a clothing store on every corner," Porter said. "I always had an eye for putting things together. It came naturally to me."
Porter remained a student of fashion, even though he worked in manufacturing. When a friend who owned a Detroit clothing store invited Porter to an industry show in Las Vegas, he decided to turn his hobby into a sideline business.
Four years after founding New Image Fine Clothing, Porter, 31, is turning it into his full-time occupation following the closing of the Connersville Visteon auto parts plant, where he was a line supervisor.
Porter is confident he can replace his Visteon salary-and then some-by expanding his 200-person client base and moving New Image from his home near East Washington Street and German Church Road into a shop downtown or on the north side.
With professional space, Porter believes he can better attract and serve new clients looking for custom clothes. Until now, New Image's client base has grown mainly through word of mouth.
Porter also spreads the word through booths at gatherings like Circle City Classic and church conferences, and sponsorship of events such as an upcoming Indianapolis Bar Association gala. And he is a spokesmodel of sorts himself.
"I dress to impress," said Porter, adding that he views every compliment on his appearance as a sales opportunity. "I say, 'I can make you look like this.'"
Most of New Image's clients are men, although the company does offer women's dress shirts and accessories.
While not everyone is able or willing to shell out $850 to $2,200 for a suit or $80-plus for a shirt, Porter said his clients typically fall into three categories: men whose height or size make buying off-the-rack nearly impossible, those who enjoy knowing their clothes are one-of-a-kind, and those with a unique sense of style.
Porter started out as a retailer for highend off-the-rack shirts, suits and ties not widely available in stores. He talked to other shop owners, read books, and signed up for classes offered by vendors and the Custom Tailors and Designers Association of America.
CTDA classes cover subjects including measuring, fitting, shirts, fabrics and running a business, said association Vice President Davide Cotugno, who also is a Brecksville, Ohio-based tailor.
"For anybody getting into the industry, it really is the only [group] in the industry offering that," Cotugno said.
The education allowed Porter to add made-to-measure custom clothing to New Image's offerings. He takes measurements at a client's home or office, helps select materials, styles and other details, then sends the information to John H. Daniel Custom Tailors, a Knoxville, Tenn.-based company with a national reputation.
Once the clothing arrives-suits take four to five weeks-Porter delivers it for a final fitting, then sends it out to one of several local tailors New Image uses for alterations. The result is a product unique in fit and feel.
"The quality is excellent," said Steve Down, who's purchased six shirts from New Image in the last six months. "And [Porter] is very responsive from a customer-service standpoint. He really bends over backwards to give a good level of service."
Down was referred to New Image by a co-worker at Ingersoll-Rand in Carmel. A native of England, Down described himself as "pretty fashion conscious" and said he's never been comfortable buying shirts off the rack here in the United States.