Tailor Made: Tri-C product John Ballom is teaching his trade to a new generation
July 12, 2017
Modern clothing is designed for minimal cost and maximum convenience. You can order it, have it delivered and try it on without ever leaving your house. If it fits, you keep it. If it doesn’t, you return it.
The newfound simplicity of fitting and purchasing clothing might lead you to believe that tailoring is a profession of the past – a quaint occupation relegated to haberdasheries from the era of wool suits and starched collars. But you’d be wrong.
John Ballom, a product of Cuyahoga Community College’s Robert L. Lewis Academy of Scholars and ThRIve program, has been a tailor and fashion designer for more than 40 years. He knows that as long as jacket sleeves are too short and pant legs are too long, there will be a need for good tailors.
That’s why Ballom formed his own tailoring school. Ballom Academy of Tailoring and Alteration is designed around an 18-week curriculum, giving students a comprehensive education in how to become a tailor and how to run a tailoring business.
“This started out as my community project in the Robert L. Lewis program,” Ballom said. “Through that program, I found out about ThRIve, which provides entrepreneurs with support and coaching. They helped me put a financial plan together and get the idea off the ground.”
With the help of Tri-C business professor Andrew Bajda, Ballom was able to have the school certified by the Ohio Board of Career Colleges and Schools. Ballom Academy opened in April, in a suite at Fairhill Partners on Cleveland’s east side.
Ballom works a full-time job as a tailor at a men’s clothing store in Chagrin Falls, putting most of his free time into the school. He is presently tutoring students one-on-one, but does not yet have the registered students necessary to begin a full 18-week program.
“On top of my day job, I have had to develop the school and start marketing it,” Ballom said. “It’s been a lot of work, but I think it’s very much worth the while. Tailoring is a useful and marketable skill. If you’re good at it, you’ll be in demand. You can have a very successful career.”
Ballom stresses the difference between tailoring and sewing. What he aims to teach his students goes well beyond stitching seams.
“Good tailoring skills have to be taught in a formal setting,” Ballom said. “It’s not just cutting and stitching. It’s understanding how to shorten a sleeve, or how to open a seam only as far as necessary and then close it in a way that achieves the desired result. You need to learn how to have a good eye as a tailor.”
Ballom also teaches students the business side of tailoring.
“You have to know what the initial investment is going to be, what machines you need to buy to start a tailoring business and how to efficiently run a business,” he said. “You have to be able to work quickly in this business. Do it right and do it fast, so you can get projects in and out. The more work you can take on, the more money you make.”
In particular, Ballom wants to see at-risk youth from Cleveland’s inner city neighborhoods enroll in his school. Cleveland’s inner city kids, he believes, are the ones who can benefit the most from career-oriented education. But reaching them, and connecting them with the financial aid necessary to cover the tuition costs, has been a challenge.
“So far, I’ve visited Glenville High School and spoken to some of the kids there,” Ballom said. “I’d like to visit some other schools later on. I have kids who are interested, but the money is another matter. They’ll ask me ‘Is it free?’ and I have to tell them, ‘No, you do have to pay.’ And it hurts to have to tell them that. So I’m working on ways to get funding to cover tuition for kids who don’t have families that can afford it.”
Once Ballom has his first full academy class, the seed he planted at Tri-C will have fully blossomed. He’ll be paying his Tri-C education – and the experience of 40 years in the tailoring industry – forward to a new generation.
“The great thing about ThRIve is they work with you,” Ballom said. “Tri-C helped me with the first steps of making this academy a reality. It’s important to me, and I think it will be important to many others in our community.”