At first glance The Little Seamstress is a longstanding small business with more than 50 years of customer satisfaction under its belt. Alterations, custom pieces, repairs and fabric sales have been the focus of the company. I had the opportunity to speak with the current owner, Fiona Proserpi, to learn more about her story and how the business came to call Oakland Park its home.
The company was founded by Dorothy Eldelman in 1967 and was later passed down to her daughters, Susan and Carolyn Van Gunten. In 2011 the sisters took on an intern from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale who had moved to the area from Switzerland, Ms. Fiona Proserpi. Having no family nearby of her own, she quickly became integrated into the fabric of the business. The stars aligned and owners Susan and Carolyn believed it was time for the next generation to take over the business at the same time that Fiona graduated college and was prepared for the role of business owner. This decision also solidified Fiona’s permanent residency status in the United States and allowed her to begin living her own American dream.
After the business was sold to Fiona in 2015, she set her sights on expansion and elevating The Little Seamstress to the next level. One part of her plan was moving the business from its Wilton Manors location of 30 years. Ms. Proserpi explained: “As an Oakland Park resident and home owner, I wanted to move my business to where I live and contribute to my city.”
Thanks to a city grant program aimed to bring more small businesses to the area, The Little Seamstress was able to call a 2 story building on Prospect Road its new home. She marveled how the change allowed for the 6 cramped seamstresses that shared a table to spread out and utilize all of the space more comfortably.
Now with more room for growth, Fiona went to work on increasing the business’ exposure. Previously, networking and advertising was strictly word of mouth, but she aimed to cast a wider net. Bringing The Little Seamstress into the modern age, she built a social media page and transformed how the company advertised. This was successful and granted her the opportunity to collaborate on a project with Valley Forge Fabrics.
This piece was created using recycled plastic bottles as fabric and traveled to different conventions across the United States, most notably the Vegas National Fabric Expo.
Another way The Little Seamstress expanded and became more notable is through Fiona’s talents with Bridal pieces. She has working relationships with several bridal shops from Fort Lauderdale to Coral Gables to work on custom alterations. She is proud to say that in 2019 she altered over 150 wedding gowns.
Fiona also creates wedding gowns from scratch as a part of the business now. When asked about her proudest creation, she immediately spoke about an original gown commissioned for her sister on her wedding day.
The 5 seamstresses that work at The Little Seamstress all have their own specialties that have allowed the business to flourish. When questioned about the more challenging projects they have produced, she mentioned heirloom pieces where an heirloom wedding gown is restored or used to create a new design. She also spoke about some of the more lighthearted projects like outfits custom made for pets or pieces made for custom halloween props like the mermaid skeleton featured below.
After learning more about the business’s history and evolution, I wanted to dig a little deeper into the culture of the company. After scrolling through The Little Seamstress’s Facebook page, I came across images of their cycling club and wanted to know more about it. How does a seamstress company develop a club for amateur cycling?
I can imagine I was not the first to ask, but she was happy to share the story about how a friend needed his cycling gear to be altered for a better fit and one thing led to another. She joked how “one of us said ‘we should have The Little seamstress cycling club’ and we laughed. Six months later we had a bunch of sponsors who wanted in, mostly small local businesses and the Trek Bicycle store in Fort Lauderdale.” If you are interested in joining, they have organized group rides and meet to learn about safe riding practices and wellness.
Fiona was forthcoming about The Little Seamstresses community service and support. She said that the women in the business have always been vocal and active within the community. She went on to explain,
“Here at the little seamstress we are proud cat ladies and animal lovers. We donate money to local programs for TNR (trap neuter release) for community cats. We help with vet bills, food banks, etc. We also do a toy drive with the cycling club for kids around the holidays. We are also supporting many local and national organizations for women and reproductive rights. These organizations help women get comprehensive information about their feminine health and reproductive rights. During the COVID19 shut down, I decided I was going to turn into a mask making business. We started donating masks March 19th for essential workers. On April 1st when face coverings became a necessity for everyone going out to public places, we were making the masks for $5 each with donated fabric. It was a way for me to keep going and helping the community.”
More recently she has become involved with the BLM Movement. She says, “We’re going to give $200 to the Minnesota freedom fund. It’s a hand painted “Black Lives Matter” mask that people can buy for $10 and I give away the whole $10 to the cause.”
Fiona and her team have used their business to support local organizations and nationwide movements. The group has created a community group to promote safety, health and wellness while bicycle riding. They have commissioned pieces featured across the United States. Fiona is living her American dream.
The Little Seamstress is proud to call Oakland Park home for the last 5 years and plan to stay a part of our community in the future. Whether you need something pinned or hemmed or desire a one of a kind custom design, Little Seamstress is there to help!
Christine Chaparro is an Oakland Park native and lives in the neighborhood with her husband and three kids. She is slated to graduate from Florida International University this summer with her Bachelor’s degree in Writing and Rhetoric and hopes to show her children that any obstacle can be overcome with the right attitude and hard work.
When she is not writing or submerged in school work, she is creating memories with her family. She enjoys crafting, building, renovating, gardening and cooking. Competition is big in the Chaparro house whether it be super-soaker fights, pranks or board games. Miami Heat basketball and Florida Panthers hockey are her two favorite teams to cheer on. Her family loves the Oakland Park events and supporting local businesses.