Behind the Seams: Alterations by Jody crosses 15-year-milestone in business

Behind the Seams: Alterations by Jody crosses 15-year-milestone in business
Jody Hayes at work at her colorful sewing workstation in her apartment.

One small local business, Alterations by Jody, quietly celebrated their 15th anniversary last month. 

You might not have heard much buzz about it. This business does not have a typical storefront. In fact, the sign at the corner of 7th Ave. and Duck that announces "Alterations by Jody" with her phone number is five miles south of the actual business itself.

Jody works out of her welcoming and nicely decorated one-bedroom apartment on the third floor of Legacy Village. On her door sits a bright orange OSU alumni sticker beneath a wreath of what appears to be gold forsythia. On the wall, just below her address, rests a brown wooden cross, wedding pictures, and a stand with pink and white flowers.

A finished cream-colored dress hangs outside, waiting to be picked up. "Well, that's a bridesmaid's dress and they're just so fun and so pretty to work on. They're hard to work on sometimes, but I've learned how to do them. So I love the weddings because it's a happy time," Jody tells me. Over the years, they have become her favorite type of garment to work on.

Although her business is only 15 years old, Jody's experience in making clothes fit just right goes back to the 1950s. After her first marriage, her mother-in-law gave her a sewing machine. Jody took lessons from Mrs. Clausen at the sewing machine shop on Main Street at the time. "And from then on, I just took off. And I made curtains, bedspreads, bathing suits. I made a lot of my kid's clothes and my clothes," says Jody. 

At the time, she had a "very, very small" sister-in-law in high school and later college who needed alterations done. So Jody began to alter her clothes for no charge. It was then she discovered she liked to do something other seamstresses did not:

"Most people that sew do not like to do alterations," says Jody. Repairing a garment is more demanding than starting with fresh fabric. "I compare it to a construction," says Jody. "Like building a house is one thing, but then going in and repairing something later on is a whole different thing because you have to start from the outside and work back in.

"It is challenging sometimes. You really have to kind of scratch your head and figure out how to do something, but I like that. I like that challenge. And sometimes I will lie there at night, and I'll be thinking, 'I don't know how I'm gonna do this,' And then, and I'll pray about it, and then it'll come to me."

Jody continued to practice and perfect her craft, making alterations for friends and family at no charge until about 15 years ago. At that time, she and her second husband needed extra income. Her first paying customer was Karen Gallagher, her employer at that time and a longtime friend.

Going into business expanded her circle beyond family and friends, bringing in many OSU students. And working with students has been one of the things that she particularly enjoys.

One fond memory was of three collegiates from Pi Beta Phi who came to have alterations done for the groundbreaking of a new house. When they found out that Jody was a "Pi Phi" too, "they were so excited. They were just talking to me about it and what it was like when I went to school and all this."

Jody (who went by Jo Anne Hart then, top-center) with some of her Pi Beta Phi sorority sisters in 1955 (Top left: Julianne Hardin, Jo Anne Hart, Harriette Hayman. Bottom left: Marilyn J. Johnson, Ann Jumper, Donna R. Kaufman).

During their visit, they asked Jody if she would attend the groundbreaking, but Jody had to decline. She had a broken foot in a boot at the time, and making the trip with the walker would be too difficult. 

"So they went to the groundbreaking, and when they came back to pick up their alterations, they brought me a series of pictures and a T-shirt. You know, it was just a little thing, but it was very, very sweet."

Jody's book of business is heavily made up of return and referred customers. She has become Stillwater's go-to person for alterations because of her expertise, fair prices, and the epitome of the personal touch that has become increasingly rare in American business.

"This is what I always say when I'm giving people an estimate of what it's going to be," Jody says. "I say, 'I'll be fair to you, and I'll be fair to me'. And I think that's the way it should be."

A recent customer, Ty Gregson, told me about his experience:

"I got an extremely fair quote. If I remember correctly, it was $150 for my three pairs of pants and two suit jackets. One of my suits she said would be too extensive of a process to fix, and the cost would be more than a new suit, and [she] recommended just doing that. She didn't even try to sell me a suit, which I appreciated.

"When I picked up my items, the pants fit great and the suit jackets were just like she measured. She said if anything was off to just come back and she'd fix it. 

"I had a phenomenal experience as a customer and appreciated our conversation about all her awards she has hanging for best alterations in Stillwater. I'd say she lives up to it."

I asked Jody if there was a garment she altered that she's never forgotten. Jody smiled and said, "Like the garment from hell?"

This unforgettable garment, which she's dubbed "the garment from hell," was a one-piece bridesmaid's dress made to look like a two-piece with a pebble-barn pattern around the waist. Jody took in one side but was stumped by how to do the other side. "I just put it aside, and I got up the next morning and I said, Lord, you have got to help me with this because I cannot figure it out. And I did!"

She must have done a great job because this same customer returned with an even more difficult challenge. This time, she was getting married but needed a suit for her brother. Her brother's keepsake urn, that is.

She and her brother were very close, and he had died of a drug overdose. The keepsake urn contained a portion of his ashes, and she wanted a suit made for him so he could attend the wedding.

"Well, I could not figure out how to do that. I worked on it and worked on it, and worked on it. But I did it." Jody used some hard white material to fashion what looked like a little shirt with the collar turned down. She then tailored the urn with some black material for a suit and finished it off with a little piece of black satin ribbon for a tie down the front. 

Jody didn't know what Candace, her customer, would think of it, but she was thrilled. The sharp-dressed urn was present on a small white pillar next to the wedding altar. "I didn't even charge her for it. I said, Candace, this is my wedding gift to you. And so I made it for her, but that's probably the strangest thing I've done."

Jody believes it matters to look good in what you wear. "The way I look at it, it doesn't matter whether it was given to you, whether you bought it at Elite Repeat, or whether you paid a thousand dollars for an Italian handmade suit. If it doesn't fit you right, you're not going to look good in it."

And as long as that is true, even for miniature urns, Jody will have plenty of business.

Simple, yet effective, local advertising for Jody's business.

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