Where do local clergy shop for their Sunday best?
A small storefront in Philadelphia helps fulfill the needs of priests, pastors and ministers who are looking for something more than an off-the-rack robe. Seamstress Trina Gooding's shop, Dress Code Design, outfits men and women in custom robes and cassocks. After all, as Dorothy Conner knows, preaching style can be about more than the way a sermon is delivered.
"Everybody loved the robe, the design, the crosses on the sleeves," said Conner.
Connor, an assistant pastor at United Church of God on Old York Road, happened upon Gooding's shop one day as she was driving up Broad Street. She saw the adorned robes in the window and said she just had to stop. Conner order her custom-made robe that day.
"Other people want one, everybody talks about it," Connor said.
Gooding says her niche is her personalization. She's a longtime clothing designer and right now a one-woman operation. While times have been tough for many small businesses, Gooding says Dress Code Design's business is steady and has been since she opened up a year ago. At present, the shop is taking orders with a five week turn around. Gooding has brought her down-home personality to the service she provides, all of which helps separate her from the competition and other, larger robe making companies.
"I'd like to be an example for people that God is still in the business of blessing people," Gooding said. "That's the way this country started out, with small businesses."
Gooding, 52, took an early retirement from a comfortable government job making military uniforms. She decided it was time to pursue her dream of becoming a business owner and full-time seamstress. Gooding graduated three decades ago from the Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in fashion design and has always sewn on the side, beyond her professional job.
"I always wanted to do this. By going to church (at Mr. Airy Church of God in Christ) and seeing the preachers preach, I thought I could design a robe for them," said Gooding.
After leaving her well-paying job earlier than most retirees, Gooding set out to realize her passion -- clothing design -- intertwined with her desire to serve God. She's made a name for herself among local community churches. What makes her work different is the cassocks she constructs are wholly custom, from the patterns, color selection to the piping, or the accent trim.
"I know I have to look at what the competition is doing. If you are going to do something why come out and do the same thing," said Gooding.
The key to Gooding's success didn't happen overnight. She took a leap of faith.
She has made an impression with both male and female clergy. Clients sit down one-on-one with Gooding for a personal consultation. Gooding draws a sketch of what they want. Her robes start at about $300 and go up depending on the customization.
"The robe, the way she did it, the details and gold piping -- it was very unique. Everything was personalized," said Elder Charles Milliner of House of Judah Church of God in Christ in Philadelphia.
It's what the customer doesn't see that speaks to Gooding's measure of "personalization." The Christian seamstress prays over the materials she uses asking God to continue to touch and anoint the minister and his congregation.
In addition to the custom robes, she sews lap scarves, praise dance dresses, stoles, bible covers, custom shirts, hats and any other personalized uniform church clergy may need for himself or his flock. Her orders come primarily from Philadelphia and New Jersey and from Christians, although Gooding says she'll sew and pray for anyone doing good things in their spiritual communities.
"I wouldn't turn anybody away," she said. "'Everything I touch turns to gold' -- that saying is why gold is my favorite color."
Gooding prefers the term ministry wear to define her work. Looking ahead and with the intent to expand her business, Gooding has created a new item, which she calls the "preacher's shirt." It's a casual shirt with a clergy collar and fancy sleeves. Gooding has answered the call that some preachers want to be laid back too. She continues to customize her clothing to meet those needs.
"I've never been without an order. God just be sending people through here. God just makes sure I have orders," Gooding said.