Ocean Tailors uses specialty fabrics to create comfort and protection from the elements
By Ann Luongo
Boating is big business − from vacationers to residents and fishermen, boating can be a hobby or it can be a lifeline. It’s a great source of recreation and it supports the livelihood of many.
One thing that each and every boat owner knows for sure is that boats must be constantly maintained – a list that includes everything from sails to upholstery.
Sandy Blajda, along with her husband, Dan, who are originally from New Hampshire, arrived on the shores of Cape Cod from the white sands of Bermuda in 2003, and officially launched their business, Ocean Tailors, in the fall of 2004. “We began a partnership with a man who worked with Dan in a sail loft in Bermuda,” Sandy says. “Dan, his partner, and I worked together for a year before his partner decided to leave to follow his passion of boatbuilding. Dan and I changed the name of the business, rebranded and conducted business in Orleans for 11 years in the Nauset Marine building.”
Sandy’s background lies in graphic design, publication printing and property management – all areas in which she gained crucial business and customer service experience while working in printing and freelance design. Additionally, she also co-owned a rental property for 20 years, which involved remodeling projects.
The Blajdas followed their customers’ requests and began making, supplying, installing, and servicing awnings for outdoor living spaces. “Exposure to remodeling and building repairs was extremely valuable for the awning portion of our business,” she says. The couple outgrew their original space in Orleans and moved to 65 Whites Path in South Yarmouth in the fall of 2015. “We now have double the space, a showroom, parking, and handicapped access,” she adds. “It’s a great new space with an easy-to-get-to location.”
While boating may be big business, it’s not the only business. Dan, who followed in his father’s footsteps and began sewing at the age of 14, is a master craftsman and tailor. In fact, he was once appointed to create clothing for the 6-foot, 10-inch frame of Boston Celtics legend Kevin McHale, providing him with various garments, including a full-length, double-breasted, peaked lapel cashmere overcoat.
Back in the ’70s, he was setting sleeves in leisure suits, creating patterns at the famous “Pandora” sweater factory, and even had a hands-on role in creating a line of patterns for Brevardi’s popular “car bra” in the 1980s. He went on to Ethan Allen in Bedford, NH, where he spent 10 years as their in-house upholsterer, developing a flair for restoring antique furnishings and creating original designs.
“Boat canvas repair and awning cleaning and repair are very popular because our clients can increase the longevity of their existing product anywhere from 3 to 10 years, in some cases, by having their canvas products serviced.” Sandy says. “This includes re-stitching, cleaning, and retreating with water repellant, replacing clear vinyl windows in their boat enclosures, replacing zippers, and patching small areas.”
Ocean Tailors typically has a small team of craftspeople and designers, each who brings his or her own specific talents to the table. Dan, a musician at heart, is head fabricator/stitcher. Other staff members include a head awning installer with over 25 years of carpentry and construction experience; a bookkeeper who has a studio art/art history background as well as many years of experience in the interior design field; and a second awning installer and boat canvas stitcher/fabricator who has upholstery and woodworking experience.
“Currently one of our sales staff is studying to become a naval architect and our newest full time sales member is a building contractor, certified in building sciences to follow best practices in efficient design,” says Sandy.
Sandy is controller, as well as head of sales, estimating, HR, and operations.
While the majority of their clients are local, Ocean Tailors does provide custom canvas and boat interior products as far north as Boston and as far west as Newport. They do service jobs for vessels of many sizes, both large and small.
“We’ve been on some very beautiful boats,” Sandy says. “I have met the most interesting people through the business. Often, a unique boat, regardless of its size, will equal a unique owner.”
Many of Ocean Tailors’ clients rely upon the team’s expertise when choosing fabrics, foam and design. Clients are offered on-site and in-showroom consultations where they can view fabrics and sit on different types of cushion foam. “They really appreciate the personal touch and product education,” says Sandy. “Custom goods are an investment, so we want to be sure our clients make the right choices and ultimately love the end result.”
Although their busiest season is March through August, they continue to have steady work year-round, Sandy says. The quietest months are December through early February.
“We get the heaviest volume of estimate requests from February through May for boating products, and March through July for awning products. I find that the clients I call ‘planners’ are individuals that have had custom work done in the past, whether it be for their boat, business or home. They understand the nature of custom made-to-order goods and often plan six months to two years in advance. There is a process that can’t and shouldn’t be rushed.” It can be difficult to set expectations, she adds, as we now live in a “click to order” world with free shipping.
While they currently have no plans to expand, Ocean Tailors currently serves all towns on Cape Cod from its South Yarmouth location.