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  • Jack Hubbell

They Don't Make "em Like They Used To

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

Down an old street, primarily constructed towards the beginning of the Soviet empire, lies a small tailor shop. The exterior is unassuming in every way, and at least half of the times I have visited it, I have passed it and then backtracked to enter its dimly lit interior.

shop worker in vintage tailor
Atelier No5 Tbilisi

I like any place that makes you feel like you have an in. My friend Saba mentioned the place before and that he had many of his clothes repaired there as a young boy. Though it may be small and easy to pass by, there are likely countless individuals with positive recommendations regarding the location. After all, the workshop had been in business since 1956; at least, that's what Zakha told me.

I met Zakha when I brought in a pair of Levis that had just split in the rear. No, my ass is not huge, which is why I was upset enough to try and get a warranty claim. After I received a discount code for the cost of the jeans (thank you, Levi), I looked at the ruined pants and couldn't bring myself to throw them away. I figured I might as well walk down to the workshop and see what the men there could suggest.

I walked in, and Zhakah took off his reading glasses, set them down on the garment he was working on, and walked over to greet me.

He laid the jeans down on the table and took a quick look. He thought for a second and recommended moving over the pocket half a centimeter to cover the tear and then reinforce from the back so it doesn't happen again.

"You will hardly notice," he reassured me.

I came back to pick up the jeans, and as he said, they were almost as good as new, all be it with a new subtle scar above the pocket where the repair work couldn't fully be covered. He laid out the repaired item on his work table for me to inspect fully. It was, no doubt, a great job, which I proclaimed to him.

"I'm a master of what I do," said Zakha.

"How long have you been a tailor?" I asked.

"Ever since I was a boy, I've only worked here at this atelier," he said.

"I started working here in 1961. Over 60 years, I've been working here."

I wasn't sure I had heard him right, as Georgian numbers are sometimes difficult to understand. He sensed this and drew out the numbers on his workspace with his marking chalk.

Vintage sewing machine
Model 15 Singer. I wish I knew enough to date this. However, it is likely about 100 years old.

I came back later with my camera and continued our conversation. The men were about to have their lunch and were gracious enough to invite me to join them.

Zakha poured wine from a repurposed RC Cola bottle into a glass and handed it to me.

"This is from my country home," he said. "100% natural."

He turned and offered some wine to his friend, Who then pulled a glass off of a nearby shelf, blew the dust out of it, and passed it to Zakha.

Zakha poured his own glass and held it up.

"My father is dead, God bless him. Are your parents still with us?"

"Yes, both my mother and father."

"My mother, this year, is 100 years old. She drinks this wine too. To our parents," he said, holding the wine higher. He continued to speak in Georgian, but I didn't understand. Lastly, we drank the glasses of wine in the Georgian fashion in one big giant gulp.

It was a very natural and young wine. Like grape juice that gets you drunk. It's so far removed from the perfect wines of France and even modern Georgian wines, but I like this. I like to think it may be a bit closer to the beverage these men's ancestors enjoyed shortly after discovering the elated feeling one experiences after drinking grape juice that had been accidentally fermented. The wine is functional in every way, much like this shop that still operates using singer sewing machines that were manufactured around the same time Zakha's mother would have entered this world. While young, in comparison to the invention of wine, the shop was traditional, sweet, and did its job well. Two young men walked in while we were drinking our second glass to pick up some items they had on wait.

As we finished our second glass, Zakaha's friend and colleague brought in a loaf of bread from the baker down the road. It went well with the cured meats and homemade cheese. Moments after that, another man entered with an even larger jug of wine.

"You should try this one as well," suggested Zakha.

Everyone was poured a final glass, and Zakha used a funnel to transfer some of the new wine into a smaller container to keep in the shop.

georgian man home made pouring wine
Zakha pouring the new wine. You can see a pot of sausages on the stove in the background.

A man with thick-framed glasses named Dato showed me the beginnings of a suit he was making, along with several photos of suits he had created in the past.

"If you need a suit, you can come to me," he insisted.

Dato was certainly the salesman of the bunch, but I certainly know who I'll be going to when I'm looking for a new suit.

Men working at tailor shop in tbilisi
Dato working on a pair of pants while the friend who brought the wine talks to him.

I spoke more to Zakha and learned of his new great-grandchild, who had been born, and His love for his wife and family. There were drawings posted on the wall, which I assumed were the work of young family members. I didn't think to ask about them at the time, but some were pretty cool. We said our goodbyes, and I somehow managed to get myself to the gym. Yes, that's where I was headed after three glasses of wine.

georgian children's artwork
Art, presumably, from relatives

I hope the jeans last me a lifetime. Hell, I specifically purchased Levis for the sole reason of having an article of clothing that would last. I like the idea of wearing something so long that it seems to have its own personality or become a part of who you are. It builds our personal legends, our individual and authentically unique style. A style slowly crafted based on what we cared about enough to care for it at all and entrust these items to those who are truly skilled in the craft of maintenance.

I write this, however, not because of the jeans and not because I'm only interested in history or old things. This is not even about Tbilisi. This is my love for those who seek to repair; the fixers among us. To those who die with more scars on their hands from toiling at putting something back together rather than fights they had in their life. This is my small letter to them because this is what we need in our world more now than ever. We aren't going to buy, sell, fight, bomb, or argue out of the world's problems. We need to fix them, even if it's just one small thing at a time—the smallest of things, even just a stupid pair of pants.

Closed storefront in Tbilisi
For anyone who is looking to have their clothing repaired or have a custom article of clothing created, The shop is located at #53 Paliashvili Street in Vake, Tbilisi
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Adrian Scoffham
Adrian Scoffham
Dec 06, 2023

Beautiful documentary work - timeless!

Jack Hubbell
Dec 06, 2023
Replying to

Thank you so much Adrian!

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