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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Al's Attire: My Tailor, Myself, My Custom Shoes

Posted By on Thu, Mar 10, 2011 at 9:30 AM


By Page McBee

Al's Attire in North Beach is a custom tailoring and shoemaking shop, and the evidence of its commitment to old-world authenticity is everywhere. Handcrafted hats are stacked atop their boxes, shoe molds and fancy cobbler tools sit aside the shoes they've produced and huge swaths of fabrics are arranged neatly across the top shelves of the store's cavernous, exposed brick space.

Personalized tags to sew on the inside of your clothes! - KAREEM WORRELL
  • Kareem Worrell
  • Personalized tags to sew on the inside of your clothes!

Al Ribaya himself is almost always there, too, in his signature, perfectly-fitted workman's jumpsuit with a yellow length of measuring tape dangling around his neck. Usually the shop is crowded with stylish types ordering perfectly fitted vests and jackets, curious business people on cell phones trying on hats and fiancées looking for something different for their wedding day.

  • Kareem Worrell

Al presides over his store with a raw combination of artisan's flair and businessman's eye. "I'm a custom tailor," he says. "Style and fashion come from my clients and the construction end is me. I think of the shop as old fashioned couture, hand made for each person."

Al "got his start as a shoe guy"--he began his training in Junior High and started his first shoe shop in the Mission at nineteen. He eventually moved to North Beach and opened Al's Attire. After years of focusing on from-scratch custom suits, shirts and coats, he's brought the custom shoe aspect of his work back into the spotlight. "I love footwear, that's my passion," he says. Lately clients have been asking him to make shoes again and he's jumped at the chance.

  • Kareem Worrell

He specializes in boots--recycled rubber soles, leather and zippers and buttons--all mixed and matched to the client's taste. He's also in the midst of some footwear collaborations with a major company that he's keeping under wraps. "Some established chains have begun to recognize that handmade goods are viable, too. We can't do mass production lines, but there's a value in handmade custom goods and the big companies are starting to notice that again." Mysterious!

Why get shoes made for your foot from scratch when you can pick up a size 8 that works just fine? "The fit and the construction," Al says. "The customer can pick any style and they'll have several fittings until the shoe is perfect. It isn't about nailing the first fitting in thirty seconds. Our customers are the type of people who appreciate quality, who like the process of custom fittings."

  • Kareem Worrell

Al made my first suit--a grey flannel number with a beautiful vest that fits me perfectly. Since then, he's made me a second vest and shirt for my wedding and refashioned the buttonholes on my original suit with purple thread so as to make my suit match my partner's purple dress.

My Tailor, Myself: February, 2011 - KAREEM WORRELL
  • Kareem Worrell
  • My Tailor, Myself: February, 2011

Having a tailor is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. "Who else would switch the thread on your buttonholes?" He asks me, as we sit like two old friends in the middle of his shop, past closing, shooting the shit. I let his words hang between us because we both know that the answer is right there in the question.

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