Image maker: Custom clothier sees bounce-back in executive business in 2022 after pandemic shutdowns

When you have four children all enrolled in college at the same time, a bad year for your business is an order of magnitude more nerve-racking.

And Kim DeRienzo, a sole proprietor in New Jersey who outfits business leaders with high-end suits and other custom attire, faced exactly that when pandemic shutdowns invited no more formalwear than a quick Zoom call required.

In 2022, however, DeRienzo’s Tailored Image business has been draped in enough favorable trends to post its best year of business in her 27 years of local tailoring. Between the large portion of executives returning to in-person meetings and events and the bevy of alteration requests, she’s dressed for success entering 2023.

As she puts it, DeRienzo’s clients pay for an experience: She meets them where they are, whether it’s a home or office, and she does the fitting, measuring and everything else needed to design a garment meant just for them.

It’s hands-on. And DeRienzo knew anything hands-on was in jeopardy when COVID was first making waves locally.

“So, I was very nervous,” she said. “But my husband told me, ‘Breathe, because this will end and things will change.’ During that time, I didn’t want to become someone selling over Zoom. It didn’t make me feel good. So, I sat back, made sure my clients were healthy and were OK. And they assured me in return that they were going to get dressed again. So, we sort of comforted each other in that way.”

After a shaky year, the C-suite customer base DeRienzo has attracted did feel the need to dress up again. And they came to her.

“Those clients are back at it,” she said. “There are clients in other categories I haven’t seen as much, but my Top 20% (of customers) are back and need to dress well.”

Working from home might remain more common even for those in top business posts. And DeRienzo is doing more casualwear now than she was before the spread of COVID.

But the higher-than-ever sales her business has done in 2022 is a testament, DeRienzo believes, to a timeless value in dressing for the occasion.

“At least part of it is that, if there’s two people interviewing for the same position or going after a customer, and one is dressed like they’re going to the gym, and the other is dressed for the job — that person is always at an advantage,” she said.

Some of the upswing of business she’s seen after a year or more of social distancing she attributes to something more quantifiable, or at least, for some, relatable: people’s bodies changed.

DeRienzo said clients hadn’t worn their formal outfits since pre-pandemic times — before they had perhaps dropped or gained 20 pounds. So, that’s where she often first started when reconnecting with them.

“I wanted to make those clothes that haven’t been worn in a while fit as well as they should,” she said. “And new garments came out of that, too. There were those that changed sizes enough that outfits couldn’t be altered enough, or those who lost enough weight they felt they deserved it.”

Reconnecting with clients today sometimes entails booking a flight for DeRienzo. The Jerseyan had a number of clients move to Florida’s Palm Beach and Delray Beach areas during the pandemic. And she goes where her high-end customers are.

It’s a loyal clientele she’s earned at a modest pace throughout the years, mostly through word of mouth or being featured for donated garments in local galas.

In the new year, she’s resolving to do more than growing gradually.

“My goal for 2023 is not to be the best kept secret anymore,” she said. “I’m going to have people help me with social media because I know what I’m good at, and there’s people out there who can advise me on that. So, you’re going to see a lot more Tailored Image out there.”