For as far back as she can remember, Meredith Gill doodled figures wearing fancy dresses, which would wind up on the refrigerator door or taped to her mother’s computer. As a 9-year-old, the aspiring clothing designer got a hands-on sense of her future — in a kids’ sewing class at a notions supply store.
Six years ago, with her enduring passion for producing garments from scratch, Gill earned a bachelor of fine arts in fashion design with a specialization in special occasion, wedding and evening wear from SUNY’s Fashion Institute of Technology.
About three years later, in February 2020, with many women beelining to her mother’s basement where Gill did alterations, she launched Meredith Gill Designs and set up shop in a 100-square-foot space in Manorville.
The arrival of COVID-19 brought her fledgling business to a screeching halt. She turned to mask-making for a local business to pay the rent on her business’s small digs.
AT A GLANCE
Meredith Gill Designs
Owner and Designer: Meredith Gill Designs LLC
Location: Center Moriches
Number of alterations: 650-plus
Number of custom items: 30-plus
Average custom sale: $1,200
Today, Gill’s business, now with two seamstresses and a 1,000-square-foot Center Moriches location that encompasses fitting, changing, work and back-office spaces, focuses on alterations and custom dresses, including bridal, Sweet 16 and Quinceañera. Plus, thanks to a lyrical dancer who patronized her for a custom costume then sparked a flurry of word-of-mouth recommendations, Gill last year expanded her repertoire to made-to-order dance competition outfits, including for jazz and Irish step dancers.
So far this year, her operation has completed 650-plus alterations, which start as low as $25 for a hem, and more than 30 custom items, including bridal gowns, which can run more than $2,000 and evening dresses, which can exceed $1,000. A costume generally costs $500 or more.
From design to production — and due to her business’ growing volume, “it can take anywhere from three to six months to finish a custom dress, depending upon the simplicity or intricacy of the design,” said Gill, an East Moriches native who became engaged in September and plans to design her own wedding dress.
Gill recently spoke to Newsday about her custom dress business. Answers have been edited for space.
What were some take-aways from your FIT education?
It allowed me to be able to express my ability with the proper guidance from professors with years of industry experience. It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
I also learned different industry measurement standards, which you need to get work. But if you don’t know them, you’re lucky if someone on the job is willing to teach them.
Before starting your business, what jobs did you have?
After graduating, I did a paid internship in the city with a bridal designer, Carol Hannah, for two months. Then, because I couldn’t find designing jobs, I went back to Tanger Outlets [in Riverhead], where I had worked in the summers, from 2015 to 2019.
I worked my way up from a regular sales associate to assistant store manager at Calvin Klein, and as part of a team, I did visual displays, according to the company’s standards and the visuals they wanted on the floor when a new season’s products came in. Sometimes, they gave us a creative moment to do what we wanted if we didn’t have [in-stock] the product they wanted on the mannequins. I enjoyed that work, but I missed making clothing.
When did you stop making masks?
In 2021, my own business began picking up, with schools rallying kids to have their own proms, and I started with alterations. I got that business by mostly advertising in Facebook groups, and other social media, as well as putting up flyers all around towns in the area, including East Moriches, Center Moriches, Eastport and Manorville.
After COVID, what else helped the business?
A special thanks to Rico’s Clothing [in Center Moriches]. At the time I moved into my Center Moriches space in 2022, they stopped offering women’s alterations. I introduced myself and they started sending women to me for alterations, and that helped kick-start my business.
Who are your customers today?
I get different people — from the Hamptons, especially during the summer; people who moved to the city and when they come back to visit in the area, they bring their stuff to me; and customers who tell their family members about me — and anyone who has a [desire for] a special-occasion dress.
What are some recent bridal trends?
A good part of my brides want some sort of detachable sleeve or a little sleeve that just covers their bicep area, or a full, flowy sleeve. Some want a pop of color — with a bride recently asking for a pink floral overlay to go on her dress as a skirt and when her dress has been bustled, it looks like a completely different dress. Some still want to add a little crystal appliqué to the front of their dress for a little bling.
And a lot of brides are bringing in their mom’s wedding dress to use the material in a satin robe when getting their hair and makeup done or want a bridal shower dress or baptism gown made from their mom’s dress.
In early October, a customer wanted to make a christening gown — with the inside satin from her mother’s wedding dress and a lace overlay from her grandma’s wedding veil.
The best part of the business?
Being able to do what I love everyday — to create new designs and help people with their own dresses, even if it’s basic alterations.
Probably time management so that all the projects are finished on time.
Advice for people who want to start a couture business on Long Island?
Don’t give up. It will become a reality if you give it the love and patience it needs to grow.