Tailor Made in Medellín: Almacén y Sastrería Lord, an Iconic Colombian Suit-maker, Has Stood the Test of Time
Colombians take their style seriously, and few institutions have a longer history or deeper understanding of this than Almacén y Sastrería Lord. The tailor and suit-making shop has been open for 85 years, serving the population of Medellín through countless changes in fashion.
Through it all, the proprietors have turned simple fabrics into wearable garments that are respected in the city for their classic but customizable and well-crafted look.
Although the ownership has passed through different hands over the decades, Sastrería Lord continues to focus on the same details that have allowed it to stay afloat through all the ups and downs in the economy and evolutions in the way people dress.
To learn more about Almacén y Sastrería Lord, Finance Colombia Executive Editor Loren Moss recently stopped by the store in downtown Medellín to recount its history and current operations with Hernando Castro, who began as a humble messenger as a teenager in 1982 before eventually becoming the owner.
Above photo: Hernando Castro is the 3rd generation owner of Almacén Y Sastreria (Store & Tailor) Lord, which he runs along with his wife, Alba Lucia Valencia.
Loren Moss: Tell me the history of the store. Who established it? What is the origin of Almacén y Sastrería Lord?
Hernando Castro: Ignacio Jaramillo Vieira founded Lord Sastrería in 1933 above a store that still exists called Mil Novedades on Avenida Palacé. After several years of being there, it was moved to another location, the San Fernando building. There, Ignacio Jaramillo became partners with Julio Alberto Botero Ospina, a rancher and lawyer.
It seemed they didn’t get along very well, however, because Julio Botero bought the name of the store from Ignacio and moved it again. They had to leave that place though, since it had to be demolished because the Seguros Bolivar building was going to be built there. But by that time there was also a second location, on Calle Boyacá, managed by Roberto Valencia Jaramillo, and that location remained.
But Julio Botero later told Roberto to take the store since his passion was ranching. So, in 1965, when the Pasaje Comercial Astoria shopping center was inaugurated — the first one in Medellín, by the way — Roberto bought the store from him and took advantage of the timing to relocate to this shopping mall. He was the first one to run this shop in this location, and it has been here ever since.
Loren Moss: So now you are in Pasaje Comercial Astoria. How long have you been here?
Hernando Castro: The store has been here for 53 years now. Once established here, Roberto was the only owner until I arrived in 1982, for a seasonal job during Christmas vacation, to work as a messenger and perform other tasks. It was 15 days before was my 17th birthday: November 16, 1982. I worked during the whole season.
Then I went back to finish high school. I studied in the morning and came to work in the afternoon. After high school, I started working full time, and while working, I entered university to study industrial engineering at Universidad Autónoma Latinoamericana. When I finished my studies, I received two job offers in industrial engineering. So I told Roberto I was leaving.
He told me I couldn’t just leave and abandon him, and he made a very special gesture to convince me to stay: He took me to the public notary and made me the owner of 10% of the store. After that, I bought another 10% every year. And in 1996 I was the owner of 50% of the store.
Loren Moss: So basically he adopted you?
Hernando Castro: Basically, yes. By 2008, he was very sick and he wanted the store to continue. The accountant suggested he yield one or two points of the partnership so that, in case something happened to him, I could become the legal representative. He told me to proceed and sold me 2%. I had 52% and he had the 48%. He was the legal representative until the last day of his life, and then when he passed away, I became the legal representative of the company.
His part of the store became part of a family succession until 2014, and once that was resolved, his relatives made me a package and they sold me everything. And I’ve continued with the store until today.
Loren: All the clothes you make are based on the measurements of the clients. There are no clothes made to sell. Nowadays, this is not very common. The trends are much more informal than they used to be when most gentleman wore a suit and tie regardless of the weather. This is essentially an art that has always existed — and still exists. But it has changed over time. How have you seen this market evolve during the last 40 years? How have men’s tastes and habits evolved during this time?
Hernando Castro: In the 1950s, customers going to a retail store had to wear a suit. You could not enter the store in a t-shirt. Back then, people in the city used to dress up most of the time. But we get by. There are still people who have good taste for clothes. I have customers that are not as wealthy, but they make a sacrifice to pay for a suit made exclusively for them. And for some people, it’s hard to find a suit that fits them completely. If the pants are their size, then the jacket won’t fit them.
When I arrived here 35 years ago, the location was more about tailoring than being a store. Back then you had to wear a suit for many jobs. Back then, when you visited public offices, everyone wore a suit and tie. The change started when leaders, like Sergio Fajardo, started appearing wearing jeans and t-shirts. After that, many people began to follow his lead. After that, many things started to change.
Even the weather became warmer. Medellín used to be a city that didn’t exceed 70 degrees: The City of Eternal Spring. It is the same with Bogotá, where the weather has also become much warmer. However, in Bogotá you may still dress well.
Loren Moss: Yes. Something I noticed during my first trips to Colombia was that Bogotá was a much more formal city than the others. If you visited Club El Nogal, for example, you had to wear a tie. Now you can go to a very luxurious restaurant with blue jeans.
Hernando Castro: Things have changed drastically over time. Many new brands have emerged. Arturo Calle, for example. So the tailor’s work starts to fall. And as the tailoring work began to decrease, I began to venture more and more into an exclusive market.
Loren Moss: Medellín used to be a textile capital. Even though it is still strong in this area, it’s not as it used to be.
Hernando Castro: Yes, it’s not as big in textiles. For example, Everfit and Indulana are really the only remaining factories that handle wool. And they don’t sell small quantities of wool anymore. If you want to buy Everfit wool, you must buy 5,000 meters.
However, they do market their own brand of clothes and sometimes their own textiles. Nevertheless, they import textiles on many occasions, too, because the salary of the workforce in countries such as India and China is much cheaper than it is here. And the prices and the quality they offer is so good that is much better to buy it there regardless of the freights and the taxes.
Loren Moss: Something I find fascinating is that a handmade suit made by you is considerably less expensive than a suit bought in a department store in the United States.
Hernando Castro: Of course. A Hugo Boss suit is worth 3 million or 4 million pesos.
Loren Moss: How much time does it take to make a suit? And other than suits, what else do you do? Do you have foreign customers?
Hernando Castro: It takes around a month. We also make collared shirts, jackets, pants, vests, and winter coats, and we do all types of alterations and even refurbish old-style clothing. And, yes, I have people who come from Paris every two years and order five or six suits. They say that with the money that they spend to buy one suit there, they can buy three here.
Loren Moss: How can someone here or abroad contact you?
Hernando Castro: We are located in the Pasaje Comercial Astoria — in downtown Medellín at Carrera 50 #52-22, Shop 145 — and open Monday through Saturday. It’s better to call before to schedule an appointment. (e-mail:[email protected] Fixed lines: +57 (4) 251-8676 or 511-9368 Whatsapp:+57 300 519-0302 or (312) 882-4091
(All photos except for Roberto Jaramillo Valencia – credit: Loren Moss)