Sometimes late at night, when she has Netflix blaring and the darkness seeps in through the shop windows, she wonders why she continues with this work of pins and thread. Exhaustion wins out over the caffeine and she worries a dress or jacket won't be done in time.
"But then first thing the next day there will be someone who is so happy to have something that fits them," says Gabi Mirelez, the owner of Sweetlime Alterations in Tremont. "Especially when I have my trans folks come, who never thought they'd have the experience where they felt comfortable to say how they wanted to have something fit, be heard, and then have that executed. There have been a lot of tears in this space."
Sweetlime Alterations is a queer tailoring shop, which looks to provide the safest space for anyone in need of feeling comfortable in clothes that reflect who they are, Mirelez says. Although 70 percent of her clientele wouldn't identify as queer, she says she works with many differently sized people and those who feel marginalized and may not feel completely comfortable taking off their clothes in a dressing room surrounded by mirrors.
The business took shape organically after she moved to Cleveland 10 years ago from her hometown of Chicago.
"I was working in alterations while I was coming out," the 32-year-old says. "I was meeting other queer folk who would say, 'I want to wear this; oh, you sew? Would you be able to make this vest look good without bubbling around my breasts?' Or, 'Can you make this catsuit super tight?' Anytime I would say I was a seamstress, these things would keep coming up. Then someone suggested I be a queer tailor, and I said, 'That's not a bad idea.'"
Following a slapdash education into how to start a business, along with a successful Kickstarter campaign, she opened in March 2016.
Sewing came naturally to Mirelez. She says it's in her blood. Her grandmother and great-grandmother sewed, but it wasn't until taking a fashion class in high school that she learned how. There, the teachers saw her potential.
"They told me I should go to school for this," Mirelez says. "They made me see I could do this."
Summer is the height of wedding season and already this year a steady stream of brides and bridesmaids have come through the shop door. Most need at least the hemline taken up, others need fabric around the middle tightened or let out. With each client, Mirelez has them put on the dress with the shoes they're wearing for the event and then, before pinning what needs to be altered, she asks them how the garment makes them feel.
She wants people to know they don't have to starve themselves for weeks to look perfect for a special occasion. Her job is to make the garment fit correctly, and she takes that seriously, as well as keeping the service affordable.
"I want to keep things accessible," she says. "We have this idea that alterations have to be a luxury or we get them only for special occasions. But the reality is most people don't sew anymore."
In the future, Mirelez hopes to expand her business by hiring a couple more workers — she currently has some part-time help — and wants to host more inclusive community events in her shop.
"It's proven more often than not that I'm doing something that matters, even if it seems small," Mirelez says. "For me, to have these one-on-one sessions and find out what people's needs are even though this is just a tailoring shop ... . People come through and we chat and catch up; I feel like I'm part of their life."