September Business Spotlight: Neville Wisdom
Meet Neville Wisdom, Fashion Designer
The ninth of 11 children, Neville Wisdom learned to sew from his mother while growing up in Jamaica and started designing clothes by 15.
“I always liked to look fly,” he says. “I didn’t come from a family that had the means and capability of being able to change their clothes very often or having the money to buy new stuff whenever I saw it. Making clothes seemed like the next best thing to do.”
He adds, “I was always drawn to physical appearance how one carries themselves and the kind of language one speaks with the clothes that they wear.”
In his 20s he started a design company in Jamaica and ran it for seven years but then immigrated to the U.S. where design temporarily took a back seat. A single parent, he got a fulltime job working as a surgical tech at Yale New Haven Hospital. He still did sewing and alterations on the side, however, opening a studio for a time in the early 2000s and when that closed continuing to run a design business outside of his home. This was the work that fueled his soul.
“By 2007 I had enough of this fulltime job that was taking me away from what I truly love,” he says. He went all-in with the dream that he had nurtured since his childhood renting a Westville shop, then quitting his job at Yale a month later. He had cut his safety net and was earning much less than normal, but Wisdom says it was a pivotal period. “It was an inspiring time in my life where I was able to really think about the things that really matter to me most.”
Wisdom designed men and women’s clothing. He embraced the New Haven community and it embraced him back. He began organizing outdoor neighborhood charity fashion shows and continues to mentor aspiring designers and teachers children at nearby schools. By 2011 he was successful enough to open a second shop.
In this moment of racial reckoning the country is experiencing, Wisdom says he’s been asking himself, “How do you impact change? How do you incur change?” One way he’s tried to answer that question is by continuing to invite aspiring Black designers to work out of his shop and learn about the trade. Dwayne Moore, one of Wisdom’s apprentices, is working on developing his own collection.
The pandemic has hurt his business, especially the walk-in aspect of the business, but Wisdom remains positive and has focused a lot of his efforts on making facemasks, some of which he donated to the nearby VA hospital. He is excited about combining his current locations — 903 Whalley Ave. Westville (New Haven) and 1042 Chapel Street at the Shops at Yale— into one storefront and design studio
He envisioned a location “where someone can walk into the studio and see us making the product,” and a setup reminiscent of “an open kitchen.” People will be able to shop and then visit the studio where the clothing is made and learn about the sourcing of the product and its made in America roots. “There’s been a lot of bad things about unfair worker treatment and stuff like that circulating in the clothing industry. For me, it’s perfect to have a very transparent conversation with the customer.”
As his website notes, Wisdom “is a man who would give you the shirt off his back, and chances are he probably made it.”
Written by Erik Ofgang, Senior Writer for Connecticut Magazine & Co-author of "The Good Vices: From Beer to Sex, the Surprising Truth About What's Actually Good for You"