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Meet Kate Burton of Uncommon Closet in Logan Square

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kate Burton.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Kate. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
It all began because my girlfriend, a trans woman, is 6’2” with broad shoulders and chest and, as you can imagine, it’s very difficult to find clothing that fits her the way she wants. I tried finding clothing stores around Chicago who cater specifically towards the trans or queer community and didn’t really find what I was looking for. I then looked for tailors who openly talk about being LGBTQ+ friendly and again found nothing. I decided that I needed to change this. So, we talked about opening an Etsy shop that would sell custom corsets, dresses, and pants for the LGBTQ+ community and hoped to expand to any number of custom items. However, it quickly dawned on me how unsustainable that would be and no immediate or consistent revenue flow to maintain the business. Since at the time I was a tailor in Lincoln Park, I decided that opening a tailor shop that also did custom would be the best course of action. At first, the business was extremely slow since I didn’t have a storefront, and word of mouth was taking its sweet time. But as soon as spring hit, my schedule filled rapidly. Within a few weeks, I was booked solid. Mostly straight people who love the mission of my business, but the few queer people that came in told me that they had never felt comfortable going to a tailor before because they felt that they would be judged. It was at that point, and every time someone comes in saying that they finally feel comfortable in their clothing, that I knew I found my calling and that this shop will be around for a very long time.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Running a business is never easy. At first, things were very slow, and we’ve had our fair share of difficult customers. For the first year and change, I was primarily a one person shop with some part-time employees here and there, so when I got sick, everything halted. Customers had to be rescheduled and were often not happy about it. Thankfully, in January, my single shop status was removed for the foreseeable future! I now have 2 full-time employees and 2 part-time and they are all stellar humans! I can finally take a day off without having to reschedule people and I no longer have to stress about an order getting done! I also dealt with (and still do) depression and anxiety. My path getting to this point was littered with people telling me that I’m not good enough. It really doesn’t matter how strongly you believe in yourself or what you’re doing, at some point, what they say will get to you. There were many times when I would just sit in my shop unable to work because that little voice in my head told me that I wasn’t good enough. This is when I found out that believing in yourself isn’t always the key to success. Believe in your mission. Believe in the people who support you. A friend once shared this quote with me from Gurren Lagann: “Don’t believe in yourself. Believe in the me that believes in you.” You trust your friends and family. Then trust them when they believe in you. It’s really amazing what you can do when you don’t believe in yourself and this business is proof of that.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Uncommon Closet – what should we know?
I’m the first and only (that I’ve found) custom clothing and tailoring business in Chicago that openly caters towards the LGBTQ+ community and those whose body types aren’t catered towards in fashion. We tailor all kinds of clothing and have sewn all sorts of garments and even miscellaneous furnishings. I love working on clothing for trans people and those who have never found clothing that fits right. It’s by far the most gratifying work. The joy I see in them when their clothing finally fits the way they want and makes them feel comfortable in their skin is a joy that you don’t see with anyone else. Clothing is a basic human need. It signifies status, it protects us, it represents us, it’s the first thing you see of a person’s personality, it defines you. There are so many people in this world that don’t have the luxury of being able to outwardly express themselves with their clothing. I get to work with so many people who are wearing well-fitted dresses or suits for the first time without any judgment. I sometimes do work as a stylist for trans people and I get to be that first line of defense at stores for them. I get to be their advocate. My job is to make my customers happy and feel safe in their clothes, in their skin. I really can’t imagine a more gratifying job.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Finding such a perfect niche market. The trans community is so heavily ignored. The LGBTQ+ community is catered to, but mostly in the Rainbow Capitalism sense. And those with uncommon body types are slowly getting recognition in the fashion world, but still feel uncomfortable going to a tailor because they don’t want to be judged. I welcome all business, but I put forth extra effort to make everyone feel welcome in my shop. I also feel that having such a strong mission has brought in a lot of business from allies. People from all walks of life want to support a business with a mission. I’d like to say to anyone and everyone that if you see a need in your community that you can fill, then do it. Don’t wait. If you have the ability to, start now. You will find people and organizations who will happily support you.

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Image Credit:
Jordan Polonsky

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