Roger Hinds is the secret that no one in Boston fashion talks about.
Far from the runways and the store racks is the man many New England designers rely on to turn their ideas into something tangible.
He makes patterns, samples, specs, and small productions, and no one can procure fabric or fasteners faster than the 59-year-old man who operates Hinds Lines & Designs in the South End.
“Everyone goes to Roger,” said Sondra Grace, chair of the fashion design department at Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston. “In a way it’s a little bit about the climate in the city. Everyone is a designer and says they know what they’re doing, but they don’t, and they go to Roger.”
The “everyone” Grace refers to could be the couturier, the dress designer, the guys selling streetwear, the sisters who make accessories, the woman stitching leather-trimmed capes. There’s the menswear company that relies on Hinds for prototypes, the suburban hipster who comes for shirt reproductions, the Patriots player who uses the Trinidad-born stitcher as a tailor.
“This is like the ER,” said the self-taught Hinds, who hosts a steady stream of appointments — and unplanned walk ins — in his converted loft studio on Wareham Street. On a recent morning, fabric flew through his sewing machine as fast as Hinds’s no-nonsense conversation with clients.
“I need the buttons and twill tape,” Hinds said to Jeremy Cutler, who has come to check on some prototypes for a fly fishing shirt Hinds is making for Ball and Buck, the three-year-old Boston-based company.
Cutler, who needed the finished shirts for a photo shoot in Montana to promote the Spring 2015 collection, tried to explain that the designer in New York hadn’t sent the necessary supplies to finish the pockets.
“You need to send what you’re going to send,” said Hinds. “Things come in here too quickly for me to lose time waiting for her to call.”
Cutler promised the parts within a day as Hinds turned his attention to another client, Relative Threads. Founded by sisters Staci Bailey and Lisa Pelaggi, the accessories line of ties, headbands, even dog collars made from the same printed fabrics, is just a year old, and Hinds has been a critical collaborator at all phases, from pattern making to samples and production.
“We can do small runs and he can turn everything around pretty quickly,” said Pelaggi. “He knows so much about the business and he puts in his feedback as well.”
The sisters arrived with bags full of sewing supplies — and just as many questions including how to find fabric for the upcoming holiday season.
Hinds handed the women a sample card of swatches from Philips Boyne, a New York shirting fabric company. Pelaggi favored a red and green plaid. “I can get you 2-3 yards. If I call them right now, the fabric will be here at 10 tomorrow morning,” he said.
Said an impressed Bailey: “Not everybody can do that.”
Hinds’s ability to source materials and turnaround jobs quickly is part of what’s earned him star stitching status. After studying men’s tailoring at John S. Donaldson Technical Institute in Trinidad, he emigrated to New York in 1981. From there, he graduated from Fashion Institute of Technology then worked for several companies including Larry Levine, Roseeni Designs, a handbag company, and Rothschild Clothing Group.
He relocated to Massachusetts in the mid ’90s to work for KGR, a women’s sportswear company in Lawrence, then Mast Industries in Andover.
In 1996, he decided it was time to be his own boss, and hung a shingle in the same building he works in today with a dozen specialized sewing machines and nearly as many dress forms.
“I have seen it all,” said Hinds, purring to his sewing machine to thread. “Come on, baby. Good girl.”
Minutes later, he finished two white sleeves, which would replace black ones on a dress for Jean Anne Boccaccio. Boccaccio, based in Hartford, has been working with Hinds since launching her namesake line, J. Boccaccio, a year ago. She had come to the South End loft to see dress samples for the fall season, but had changed her mind about the sleeve color on a black one with a white zipper.
“It is a big deal to take it out?” she asked, sheepishly.
“No — two seconds,” Hinds replied.
Peter Wheeler, president of the Boston-based Sara Campbell line, has used Hinds for decades on everything from small projects (Father’s Day ties) to deadline jobs for the company’s private label clients.
“He knows a lot of different parts of that industry and he doesn’t have his own line so he’s not involved in the wholesale or retail business,” Wheeler said. “He’s a jack-of-all-trades, but he’s four doors down the street so we see him regularly.”
Start-ups like Boccaccio’s have a soft spot in Hinds’s heart. “What I love is when they are green and intimidated. They’ll ask, ‘Is this too small a project?’ No project is too small,” he said.
Naivete may charm him, but laziness doesn’t. MassArt’s Grace recalled visiting his shop when a designer came with an idea for a bow tie business.
“Roger said, ‘I’m not making any bow ties until you make one’,” she said. “That’s the greatest lesson.”
His blunt, time-is-money manner has led to lively conversations about design, and Grace remembered a contest among MassArt students to create uniforms for the Revere Hotel staff.
“The winner had a dress with a two-piece sleeve, a two-tone red-berry and wine,” she said. “Roger had to make the dress in all the sizes. He said, ‘This two-piece sleeve — do you know how much extra time it’s going to take?’ I said, ‘Don’t sacrifice that. If you sacrifice that, you’ll have a basic looking dress.’ He accepted that.”
On the day of Boccaccio’s visit, Hinds was in an agreeable mood after much back and forth about another design detail — whether or not to taper the hem of a red dress.
Boccaccio: “Do you see what I’m talking about?”
Hinds: “A smidgen.”
Then, he took out his seam splitter.
Designers across New England come to Hinds for a variety of needs, from patterns and specs to prototypes and small production runs. A sampling of 10 clients includes:
Ball and Buck, 144B Newbury St., Boston, 617-262-1776, www.ballandbuck.com. Menswear.
Remy Stressenger, Boston, 617-840-5898, www.remycreations.com. Custom-designed shawls, dresses, and skirts.
Osmium, 781-435-0662, www.osmium.com. Menswear.
Society Original Products, Boston, www.societysop.com. Streetwear.
Sara Campbell, 44 Plympton St., Boston, 617-482-7272. Womenswear.
Revere Hotel, 200 Stuart St., Boston, 617-482-1800, www.reverehotel.com. Staff uniforms.
Michael de Paulo, Boston, www.michaeldepaulo.com. Eveningwear.
Ivy Threads, on Facebook/Ivy Threads. Made-to-measure vintage-inspired British shirts.
Relative Threads, Easton, www.relativethreads.com. Accessories.
J. Boccaccio, Hartford, www.jboccaccio.net. Dresses.Jill Radsken can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.