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Ask Gabriel Escobar, owner of Tailor it! Gabriel Escobar on Telegraph Avenue, why he decided to pursue tailoring as a career, and he’ll say craftiness is part of his Bolivian culture.
“We have a mixture of Indigenous and Spanish blood, but the indigenous people of Bolivia—the Aymaras and Quechuas— tend to do a type of work that involves making things from scratch, whether it be garments or ceramics, or woodwork,” Escobar said. “Of course, indigenous people can do anything, including scholarly work, but mainly we are very crafty.”
Escobar has lived in Temescal since 2009. He used to commute to San Downtown Francisco as a tailor for Ralph Lauren and later worked for John Varvatos.
His creativity was fostered by his mother Delia Escobar Gonzales and his father, Efrain Escobar, who began teaching him the art of tailoring at age eight. The skill runs deep in the family: Efrain was taught the trade by his father, Felipe Escobar, and Efraim taught his wife Delia. So, the quality of work that Escobar’s Oakland customers receive is three generations’ worth of knowledge.
He opened his business in 2018 at 40th Street and Martin Luther King Way, after John Varvatos shuttered its tailoring division, and he moved to his current Telegraph Avenue location in 2021.
He credits his success to lessons he learned from his parents. “My father taught me the skill, and my mother taught me how to be efficient and good with timing,” Escobar said.
His grandfather learned the trade as an apprentice to a Jewish tailor in the 1930s in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where Escobar’s father Efrain was born.
“My father learned how to tailor when he was eight as well, and was born in Bolivia but brought to Argentina in the mid-1950s because of economic issues in his home country. [He] then went back to Bolivia and opened up a tailor shop in the capital city, La Paz,” Escobar said.
In the 1970’s and late 80’s, Efrain’s business in La Paz was doing well. At one point, the shop won second place in a nationwide fashion competition. But their nation was experiencing turmoil. Escobar’s mother Delia ran the shop while Efraim went to the U.S. to see if they should move there.
“The bad thing about Bolivia is that there were coup d’etats every three to four years, and the economy always went down,” Escobar said.
In 1989, when Escobar was 11 years old, Efrain brought the entire family to the U.S. They ended up in Walnut Creek, where his uncle was living at the time. Efraim worked at various places throughout Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill, and Delia worked as a tailor in San Francisco for Burberry. Escobar was undocumented as a child but later in life was able to become fully documented.
“It’s important to mention because it’s very different when people migrate legally and people migrate illegally,” Escobar said, “because when you are a so-called ‘illegal alien’ you pretty much have to hide. Now that I’m old, I realize that it did cause a bit of trauma on my mind when I was a child.”
Last year, Escobar spent many long nights in his shop altering his clients’ clothing to make up for lost business due to the pandemic. “I worked from about 4 a.m to 10 p.m, Mondays to Saturdays and sometimes even Sundays. I probably should have just made a bed here,” Escobar said.
Escobar’s wife, Claudia Patricia Gonzalez Perez, a consulting services specialist for the Colombian Consulate in San Francisco, remembers 2021 well because both of them were hustling to make a living while pursuing their passions. “During that time I was selected for a fellowship at Columbia University, so we both were working a lot. We would go to the beach early Sundays, and escape to nature once in a while,” Gonzalez Perez said.
Their mutual support for each other’s livelihood and personal time means the world to Escobar. “I think if I wasn’t able to spend time with her at least once a week, it would have been really hard,” he said.
The long work hours he’s spent since reopening after the pandemic shutdown have been grueling but have also earned him repeat customers, including Claire Nero, an East Bay-based character designer and illustrator. Nero bought vintage clothing during the early days of the pandemic and wanted to find a tailor who could alter them to fit properly.
Nero saw that Escobar had great reviews on Yelp, brought in her clothing, and has been utilizing his services for the past two years. “I’m a designer myself, so I was able to recognize his passion for his craft and that he took so much time to make sure everything was absolutely perfect,” Nero said. “It was more than just fabric and sewing, it was his art form.”
This year, Escobar’s shop was honored as the best clothing alterations store in East Bay Magazine’s “Best of East Bay 2022.”
“I didn’t know about this until a customer of mine came in and showed me the magazine,” he said. “I feel honored that my customers like my work enough to think of me for something like this.”