Monte Stewart is a veteran custom clothier. In 2012 he added to his business with Beg + Borrow, where women can design their own shirt dresses.
Monte Stewart has spent more than 40 years selling clothing to men. With his new business Beg + Borrow Apparel, he creates dress shirts, which are assumed to be tailored for men, to better fit a women’s figure.
“When I started building the custom clothing business and going into homes the conversation always got back to the woman,” he said.
“The man usually doesn’t have confidence to make the decision on his own. The wife or girlfriend will compliment or tell him he looks horrible. The conversation always gets back to the girl asking, ‘I love these shirt fabrics. Why don’t you have anything for me?’ That conversation kept coming up over again.”
Stewart quickly realized he had a built-in audience that was asking for a product made out of the materials he already used. So he looked into the idea of creating a shirt dress.
In 2012, Stewart launched Beg + Borrow to offer custom shirt dresses to women.
He meets his clients by appointment for a custom fitting where clients can try on sample sizes, pick our fabrics and build a dress. Stewart works out of a shared showplace at 64 Flicker Street, which is the homebase for Memphis Fashion Week.
Everything from length, pocket shape, stitching and cuffs is up to the client’s decision.
“What I want to end up with is you having something no one else in the world has what you have,” Stewart said. “Maybe they picked the same fabric but they didn’t design it the way you did. The goal is for you to have a one-of-a-kind shirt dress that is custom built to your specs.”
The by-appointment model means clients often will turn it into a party of sorts. The appointments typically take 30 minutes and Stewart will do home shows, but he loves his regular customers who turn the event into an occasion.
Parker Patterson and a group of friends often meet Stewart on Tuesday nights. They open a few bottles of wine and talk about dress designs. She has five of his dresses.
“It’s so much fun,” she said. “He’s so laid back. He makes it fun for us. You can be creative and throw out ideas. We schmooze and booze and talk about fashion.”
Stewart’s path to selling shirt dresses started long before partners of his men’s clients asked for their own items. Stewart started in retail in 1970 while in high school and has been in the business ever since. But he always felt an urge to create custom clothing.
“One thing I loved in men’s retail was custom clothing,” Stewart said. “I loved the idea of owning something no one else owns. When you go into a retail shop you’re buying something someone picked out for you.
With custom you go in and look through fabrics, pick out the ones you like, design a suit or sport coat you want; you get to create your own clothing item without someone else telling you this is something you should wear.”
Even when working for various clothing retailers through the years, Stewart still sold custom when he could. Off and on through the years he thought about owning his own company, but he also knew the difficulty with owning a brick-and-mortar store. He wanted no part of that.
In 2008 he decided to take the plunge, only it wouldn’t be in a physical location. He wanted his business to focus solely on custom clothing in the client’s home or office.
“I worked around their schedule,” he said. “I had one doctor I called on. He said you can see me but the only time I can see you is 10 on Friday night. I said I’ll be there. I work around my client’s schedule.”
Stewart added Beg + Borrow to his custom clothing work in 2012. It did take a little trial and error in the beginning, although it usually meant his wife had a few extra dresses to wear.
Stewart is confident he has the business model that works. He moved into the Flicker Street studio in the fall. It offers a good opportunity for clients to see dresses on mannequins.
He doesn’t have any employees, although Stewart has a group of people he pays as consultants for their fashion opinions.
His goal is to create a website that will duplicate the one-on-one experience he provides to Memphis clients, making this a business with global reach.
“I have in mind what I want to do it’s just working with someone to create it,” he said. “I enjoy meeting with clients in my space, picking out fabric and designing it. They try it on and get excited. My challenge is creating that on a website. The end result of a client being happy with a finished product is the main goal.”
Stewart uses about 10 measurements to make the dress according to the client’s preferences. Once a dress is ordered it takes about 20 days to come back. And he always makes sure the client is pleased.
“I tell my clients I don’t want my dresses hanging in their closet for them to look at,” Stewart said. “I want them to wear the dress. I want clients to be 100 percent satisfied with the finished product. If I can’t fix it I’ll remake their dress. I want them happy. They’re my billboard.”
Stewart created the business without outside financing or help. He said he’s proof entrepreneurship can happen at any age.
“I started this late in life; I’m 65 in March,” he said.