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Check Out Michael Iji’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Michael Iji.

Hi Michael, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstory with our readers?
I never imagined I would be a clothesmaker, but there was a master tailor by the name of Felix in my hometown of Abia State, Nigeria, that took interest in me. So I really started learning to sew from just 14 years of age. Nigerians are well-known for their vibrant styles of dress, so dressmakers & tailors must be extremely skilled in couture fashion. The expert working with me said I had natural talent for it. Along with that, being his apprentice was an opportunity to learn a craft and keep out of trouble.

Somehow, I began to like the idea that I could make my own clothes at any time. As my knowledge and confidence increased, I set up my own shop to do on-the-spot sewing in the markets. I called it McKing’s Fashions. It was incredible seeing how I could use this new skill to earn money for my family. My parents were hard-working disciplinarians of very modest means; and though the middle child of nine, my siblings somehow looked up to me. So I felt an obligation to make something of myself in life.

Those early years in Nigeria began a natural progression of fascination with world fashion leading me to branch out to new places and discover what else was out there. I traveled throughout Africa for a few years, eventually moving to Italy, where I worked temporarily in some fashion houses and other industries. After a near decade spent there, learning even more techniques in high fashion design, in my heart burned the desire to create my own looks not just copy from what had already been done. But neither opportunity nor success fell at my feet.

Hence, as our family circumstances changed, I took a leap of faith and opened a tailor shop in downtown Cary, North Carolina, where I’ve focused on alterations and custom design, but methodically began to build up my reputation and inventory to one day launch the MICHAEL IJI brand wear.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Life constantly got in the way.

After marrying in Italy, my American-born wife and I came to the U.S. It was 2009 and the height of the economic crash. There was an incident with a Nigerian shoe bomber on a plane just around the same time we arrived, so coming into the country as a Nigerian born foreigner with no work history here led to many brick walls, closed doors and no resources. To add to that, though my wife had decades of executive administrative & educational training and at times, held phenomenal jobs, a serious car accident and childbirth left her in chronic pain and compromised health.

Fortunately, I was industrious and determined, so I persistently found my niche as an expert tailor and alterations specialist, gaining word-of-mouth clients in several states: Michigan, Ohio, Arizona, Florida, Virginia and North Carolina. Over the years, as life went up and down, I needed alternative full-time work, so I found employment as an industrial sewer, still designing custom wear for private clients on the side. But it wasn’t enough. I was not satisfied or fulfilled with life because I had a burning desire to make fashions under my own name, not just alterations and tailoring. Along with that, I had a growing family here as well as extended family back in Nigeria depending on me.

Despite the early struggles just to survive in Nigeria, the obstacles endured in this country, the disappointments of missing New York Fashion Week in September 2019, and then the complete dumpster fire setbacks of 2020, MICHAEL IJI (Michael Iji Fashion International LLC dba MICHAEL IJI Custom Design & Tailoring Studio, and MICHAEL IJI Couture) is still here, forging ahead. I will never quit.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
Locals know me best for my designer shirts. I am a master tailor, custom clothier and alterations’ expert, but my passion is in designing clothing, specifically menswear. Still not to exclude anyone, I design for ladies as well. Shirts, pants, vests, bow ties, straight neckties, pocket squares, fitted skirts, maxi skirts, blouses, dresses… More recently, I designed an entire wardrobe for a client including pantsuits and coats but this was a unique case – my first customer.

Compared to today, my early designs and men’s shirts were only playing. I have studied techniques of high fashion designers and trained myself to be able to take the measurements of a client, cut and sew his shirt without patterns. I work meticulously to get it done well in record time and I have a full five-star rating on Facebook and Google to prove it.

There are many tailors around town and a select few offer custom shirts, slacks and suits as well; but in my experience, these services are outsourced to other countries and have a few weeks lead time. I am proud to say that I sew absolutely every garment myself right in my downtown studio. I add unique details to my signature designs that identify them as authentic. Like a bottle of fine Italian wine, I keep a selection of designs on hold for special occasions.

My shirting fabrics are imported from Italy and are of the finest quality Egyptian cotton. Most importantly, all MICHAEL IJI designs are made right here in North Carolina. Where else can you find haute couture in the local neighborhood?

Can you talk to us a bit about happiness and what makes you happy?
Designing clothing is exciting, fun and fulfilling as I see ideas go from imagination to finished creation. I eagerly look forward to going to work each day. This is my passion, my craft. I have honed my skills over about 30 years of sewing in three countries, and I continue to perfect my techniques and seek new ideas and ways to innovate.

When I am not focused on work, my attention is on my family. My wife and I have two awesome, intelligent kids that we are doing the best we can to get to adulthood as kind, generous, loving, well-rounded citizens of this planet. We love our community and helping our neighbors. Lending assistance in any way possible is what brings me great joy – whether physically, financially or spiritually. I do all that I can because I love people and helping others is my fun.

MICHAEL IJI is not just a brand. My reputation as a person, as a husband, as a father, as a friend, as a neighbor is tied to that name. I take it very seriously. We are all works in progress, so I am endeavoring each day to gain more insight on the best way to minister to others so that at the end of my time, I can say that I fully walked in my purpose and was a vessel for good.

Contact Info:

Image Credits

Adrienne Ijioma

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