Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Immigrant tailors’ shop a testament to dedication, hard work, Catholicism
Story and photo by Jami LeBrun, Inland Register staff
(From the March 17, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)
Rosa and Alex Figueroas (right), together with their children, are creating a new life and a new business in Spokane. (IR photo)
Though many Americans dream of owning their own business, the challenges and financial hardships frequently associated with such an endeavor often send dreamers running in the opposite direction. But not Alex and Rosa Figueroa. Last March, the couple moved with their family to Spokane and opened their very own business – a custom-made clothing and tailoring shop they named Don Juan’s, after Rosa’s father.
Their little shop, located at 908 E. Ermina in Spokane, is a testament to their hard work and dedication, their Mexican heritage, and also to their Catholic faith.
Walk through the front door of the shop and be greeted by a large terry-cloth rendering of Our Lady of Guadalupe and a portrait of Jesus Christ. The Figueroa’s eldest children, Rosita and Elisabeth, ages four and two, excitedly meet customers who come through the door, chattering in a mixture of Spanish and English as they dart between the front of the shop and the small apartment in the rear where the girls live with their parents and five-month-old twin brothers, Israel and Juan.
Every inch of the little one-room shop is put to use – racks of clothing line one side, a small fitting room sits in one corner, and sewing machines, spools of thread, needles and a small couch for customers to sit on fill up the remainder of the space. One of the front windows proudly displays a variety of the Figueroa’s custom-made clothing, while the other provides a perfect view of the street outside from the workspace where the Figueroas spend much of their time.
Tailoring is in Alex Figueroa’s blood. Born in Guatemala City, Guatemala, Alex moved to Mexico with his family when he was still an infant. There, his father joined the rest of his family in their family-owned tailoring business.
In 1990, the family immigrated to the United States, settling in Orange County, Calf., where Alex’s father opened his own custom-made clothing and tailoring business. As a child, Alex spent time after school and on the weekends at his father’s side, learning the art and the importance of quality workmanship. At 7 years old, Alex was already creating custom-made clothing patterns.
After high school, Alex attended Orange County College, where he began studying to be a medical doctor. It did not take him long, though, to discover that his true joy was in tailoring. He met his wife, Rosa, in college and the two were married in 2000. They began looking for an affordable place to start their own business and raise a family.
When they heard about Spokane through family in Eastern Washington, the two had to get out a map to find it. Still, it sounded like a good place for them to make a new start. So, in 2003 the Figeroas moved their family north to Spokane.
For the first several months, life was challenging. The family lived in a small apartment and worked out of their home. Alex always had at least two jobs at a time. But after a few months of adjusting, the couple began to make connections and friends, and their dream of owning their own shop and carrying on the family tradition began to become reality. They obtained a small business license and a loan and made the final steps toward opening their own shop.
As regular attendees of the Spanish-language Mass at St. Joseph Parish in Spokane, the family began to make great friends. Among them are Rolando and Reynaldo Diaz, immigrants from Cuba, who helped them to set up their shop on the corner of Nevada and Ermina streets. The brothers helped the Figueroas build racks and counters, and installed a fitting room.
In March of 2004, the Figueroas proudly opened the doors of the new Don Juan’s custom made clothing and tailoring shop. Don Juan’s specializes in designer quality clothing for men, women and children. They do alterations or custom-make entire garments. The Figueroa’s make everything from wedding gowns and men’s suits, to vestments for clergy and baptismal gowns for infants – all at a quality that far surpasses that of clothing retailers.
The quality and craftsmanship of garments made at Don Juan’s is superb.
“We don’t use regular material,” Alex said. He special-orders all the fabrics for their clothing from wholesale fabric stores in New York City and Beverly Hills.
As a life-long student of the trade, his keen eye easily identifies which fabrics are right for each individual and which are not. Each garment is perfectly fitted to its wearer, giving it a look and feel impossible to obtain from clothing bought off the racks at retail stores. He can copy any look and sometimes has customers come in with a picture from a magazine, asking if he can recreate a designer gown or suit.
“Oh, yes, of course I can,” he says proudly.
Each completed garment boasts a small tag in the corner proclaiming that it was made at Don Juan’s. Customers can also choose to have their garment mono-grammed on the inside and include any special features they want, including a cell phone pack – a feature that many custom-made suit buyers choose to include.
Business is good and the Figueroas say they could not be much happier.
“I love that I can see my family anytime I want to and go out anytime I need to,” said Alex.
“We really like Spokane,” said Rosa as she worked the cash register while holding one of the twins.
And for the Figueroas, their family is what it is all about – providing for and spending quality time with their energetic children, and preserving their family and cultural heritage. Don Juan’s fits into that picture perfectly.