By Megan Sayles,
AFRO Business Writer,
When Baltimore native Justin Shaw opened Shaw’s Covenant, a custom suit business in 2017, he had limited experience in the men’s suit market. At the time he was unhappy as a human resources professional and network marketer.
His best friend, Gilbryonna, who would later become his wife, urged him to choose a career based on his passions. Based on his love of suits– the choice was easy. He opened a professional attire company.
“It’s not a transaction for me, it’s a transformation. The value of the garment for my clients isn’t even necessarily the garment itself,” said Shaw. “It’s the opportunity for them to feel special, important and catered to as men because men carry a lot of responsibility and, oftentimes, get more criticism than gratitude.”
Shaw’s Covenant offers custom-made suits, jackets, trousers, shirts, overcoats and even vests. The process starts with a consultation call and, after measurements and two fittings, the final garment is typically ready in six to eight weeks.
In his first month of business, Shaw made over five figures. Today, he serves clients all over the country, traveling to them to do custom tailoring. Now, he’s preparing to open a brick-and-mortar location.
This year, the 28-year-old also was commissioned to produce two suits for Baltimore City Mayor Brandon Scott, one for his delivery of the 2023 State of City address and another for his appearance at the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program graduation ceremony.
Initially, Shaw wanted to make the suits by hand himself, but after trying to make a tie, he quickly realized it was too cumbersome.
“After three hours of drawing and trying to cut the tie out, I realized that wasn’t my lane. I thought there had to be a better way because even if I figured out how to make suits by hand, I would probably still be making my first 10 suits about seven months into business,” said Shaw.
He started outsourcing tailors and manufacturers from the U.S., England, Italy and China.
“I’m a man of faith, so I definitely prayed on it like I’ve never prayed on anything before. I believe God literally led me to finding the right tailors and manufacturers to help me produce my garments.”
Shaw first took a liking to suits as a young adult. At 6 foot 5 inches tall, he found that he often tried to shrink his presence.
“You were never going to miss me in a room, but because of that, I was very reserved, quiet and didn’t see value in my voice when I was younger,” said Shaw.
When his older brother began wearing suits, Shaw admired the style, so he decided to try wearing them himself.
“Wearing suits gave me a sense of power. It helped build my confidence,” said Shaw.
In the early days of his business, Shaw drove for Lyft to supplement his income. On one of his trips, he met Malik Freeman, a senior criminal investigator for the Federal Reserve Board and colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve.
The pair spoke about their families and careers and decided to stay in touch.
For Freeman’s 20th wedding anniversary in 2021, he and his wife wanted to have a vow renewal ceremony. Freeman recommended that they use Shaw’s Covenant for his suit.
Shaw flew to Las Vegas, Nev. just before the vow renewal ceremony was staged to ensure that Freeman’s suit did not require any last-minute alterations.
“It was a phenomenal suit. It complimented my wife’s dress, and all of the kids dressed in the same color. We have a family photo that we are going to remember 50 years from now.” said Freeman.
“Let me tell you, he’s very meticulous and thorough, and he wants to make sure he’s within your budget range. He wants to get you the best product with the highest quality for the best price.”
Megan Sayles is a Report for America Corps member.
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