The saying is, “clothes make the man,” but Sam Abouhassan, custom clothier, begs to differ. A custom suit may make a man stand taller and walk prouder, but for the master tailor, it’s the man inside the suit where the inspiration starts. Abouhassan, owner of a shop that bears his name, has been crafting custom suits and shirts for men since 1978. He has never lost his passion for creating the perfect suit for each customer.
Abouhassan is known for his attention to detail, his emphasis on the value of labour and fabrics, and his refusal to make a made-to-measure suit. All of his suits are made from scratch, starting with the fabric selection and ending with hand-sewn details. The suits are designed to last for decades with only a small alteration if the client’s weight changes. Each suit is timeless and Abouhassan’s skill as a master tailor is renown in the Capital City.
How did he achieve all this? His experience started in a small tailor shop in the Middle East – when he was in grade six.
“In grade six, my cousin was one of my teachers. One day he pulled me to the side and in a very nice way he told me that I should try to learn a trade,” Abouhassan smiles mischievously. “It was his nice way of saying that I was not doing well at school!”
Abouhassan was young and not a huge fan of school, but there was one thing he did like: good quality, stylish clothing. He admits, though, that as a young boy he couldn’t afford the fashionable clothes he craved.
“I went to a local tailor shop in the city next to our town to ask if I could get a job,” Abouhassan continues. “I was hired that day and I have been in the tailoring trade since.”
He started as a helper on the pressing table, but soon progressed to hand finishing garments. Next, he was prompted to the sewing machine. “By the time you learn measuring and cutting, you could get the title of ‘tailor.’”
“Years down the road I was working for the same Armenian brothers as tailor,” continues Abouhassan. “I was able to run the shop. But time went on, the civil war started, and the future was looking bleak.”
The Lebanese Civil War took place from the 1975 to 1990 and resulted in thousands of fatalities. The war caused nearly a million people to flee the region, and more than 75,000 remained displaced as of 2012.
“Edmonton was the only place in the world that I had relatives outside of Lebanon,” Abouhassan explains. “With my relative’s help I was able to emigrate to this city that I proudly call home.”
When he arrived in Edmonton, Abouhassan was just 20 years old and didn’t speak a word of English. However, that didn’t stop him from getting a job just three days later, working for a tailor at 100 Street and 101 Ave.
“About two years after I arrived in Edmonton I wanted to open my own tailor shop. Around the corner I found space in the basement of the old King Edward Hotel on 101 Street and 101 Ave. That is the address I have been on for 40 years, with the same phone number. I have moved few times, but no more then half a block away.”
It wasn’t easy. “I was 22 years old, learning how to sign a lease, dealing with customers, and doing the measuring, sewing and pressing. It was tough to get going not knowing how to get customers into the store. The only thing that kept me going was that I knew my trade and there were not many tailor shops in Edmonton. I thought, ‘If I could get the customers, I will do the best job. Then I can get them to come back and see me again.’ That still holds true for me today.”
When he first arrived in the city his only thought was survival. Now, years and a very successful business later, he takes time to reflect.
“Looking back, I never thought long-term. My focus was on making a living and the fear of failure kept me going. When you grow up with no safety net and no family nearby, you end up being more careful with everything you do, from your work life to your social life; but, the harder I worked the luckier I got. My client list got very impressive even though I had no idea who my clients were. I started finding out about them later on after getting to know how to spell their names properly when my English improved.”
Although he didn’t realize it at the time, his business started attracting local celebrities. Abouhassan recognized one, who would later go on to boost his brand after becoming a very satisfied customer.
The master tailor explains, “In the country I grew up in, we knew of ice as what you put in your drink to make it cold. Here, you skate on it and play the game of hockey! So, when Mr. Glen Sather came into my store looking for a custom suit, I recognized him as the guy on television behind the player’s bench, but I didn’t know his name. I had to ask him, so I could embroider the name inside the suit we were making for him.
“Mr. Sather became my best advertisement. He went on to introduce me to his coworkers and other hockey players. In a few short years we were making suits and shirts for customers in Fort McMurray, Los Angeles and New York, to name a few places.”
From there the business grew rapidly. In October, Sam Abouhassan Custom Clothiers celebrated 40 years.
“Looking back, I could not have imagined that I would be here today doing what I love best,” Abouhassan reflects. “I am proud to say we have established a name in the custom suit business, a name based on quality fabrics and the finest in hand-making suits and shirts. In the last 40 years we have never changed our way of making our product and we never compromise on quality or workmanship. We only change the style to meet today’s looks.
“The great challenge our business faces now is finding the next generation of qualified tailors that could keep the trade going. [It’s important not to confuse] salespeople with tradespeople.
“We always try to make the next suit better than the one we made the day before. Men’s fashions have changed with time, but quality and great service will always be our first priority.”
With his unique life experiences, relentless drive, talent for tailoring, and ultimate success in the city that he now calls home, Abouhassan has a very balanced look on life, and he enjoys giving back to the place that helped him achieve his dreams.
“Giving back to the community will always be big part of my life,” says Abouhassan. “There are so many ways to give back. If you don’t have the money, then give your time. What I’ve gotten back from doing so is 10 times more then what I give.”
Today Abouhassan is far from the country of his birth, but he’s right at home in the Capital City. In addition to being among the top custom suit makers in the province and having outfitted some of the most famous men in North America, the tailor’s focus remains humble. He’s content to get up every day, give something back to the city he loves, and make men look and feel their best through his undeniable talent for tailoring.
“I have been blessed to work and live in this great city,” Abouhassan smiles. “Some people measure their success by accomplishments or monetary gain. I measure my success by the number of good people I call friends.”
So, do clothes make the man? In Abouhassan’s case, the answer is a resounding ‘no.’ Hard work, grit, determination, a relentless drive to succeed, taking huge risks, and being community minded made this man, and because of that, he makes the clothes that make other men stand out.