Business is booming for Breckenridge seamstress
Since she moved to Summit County as a teenager in 1974, Holly Robb only thought of leaving Colorado once. The plan was to move to Minnesota to be closer to her parents. She made one trip to the Midwest, but four months later, on the return drive to Colorado to pick up her remaining things, the homesickness was too much.
“I think I stopped in Sterling (Colo.) and called my mother from a payphone with tears in my eyes and said, ‘I’m not coming back,’” Robb recalled. She said it was the mountains that she’d missed most. “I didn’t know they had that effect on me and they do. That’s just home. I haven’t even thought of moving away since.”
Mountains and the wilderness are in Robb’s blood. She was born in Alaska, in a small town outside of Anchorage that is now a wilderness area. She grew up hunting, fishing, skiing and attending school with the children of just a few other families. With her love of the outdoors, it’s no wonder that she also fell in love with Summit County.
Robb moved to Colorado with her parents, six sisters and a brother. She attended junior high and high school in Summit. After that, she studied business and marketing, going to school in Denver and Colorado Springs, but ending up, as always, back in Summit.
Robb became a business owner in 1991 when she bought The Bristlecone Collection from her boss. The business was then in the Bell Tower Mall (now Main Street Station); now, Holly’s Pizzazz Boutique sits just off Breck’s Main Street, a location she loves for its convenience near the beaten path, and for the way it allows sunlight to stream through the windows all day.
She doesn’t miss her windowless shop in the Bell Tower Mall, though that building did hold one fond memory — it was where she first met her husband, Alex, when they were both working at a ski shop. The two have been together for 28 years.
“This is great. I get sunshine all day long and it makes the days go so fast, even in the wintertime,” she said. In summer she gets to do what she calls “sidewalk sewing,” where she sits just outside the store, with her work in her lap and a clear view of Peaks 8 and 9.
Robb’s boutique, selling women’s clothing and accessories, started as her main business, while she did sewing projects on the side.
“I’d always done alterations for things purchased in my store, if someone needed a hem or something taken in, and I’d always done a little of my design work on the side,” she said.
During that time she actually left her sewing machines in the back room, not wanting to incur more requests. Then, 2008 hit and the dynamic changed.
The rise of the seamstress
“That was the fourth recession that I’ve been through with this business since I started it, and it’s the first one that really scared me,” Robb said of 2008. “Shops were dropping like flies and I was trying to figure out, you know, what else I could do. … I was hanging on by my little fingernails just like everybody else.”
That’s when she decided to bring her sewing machines up front and start taking on more design and alteration jobs. Business came pouring in and before long, the sewing started to overtake the retail.
“It is now more than three-quarters of my business,” she said. “My retail business is shrinking. Now I’m a tiny little retail shop surrounded by a sewing studio.”
Several times, she has redesigned her shop to reflect the growing influence of her sewing skills. She credits the sewing success to the convenience of her downtown shop and the fact that very few others offer tailoring services nearby.
Fortunately, Robb embraces any and all challenges related to sewing, describing her store as daily “eclectic chaos.”
“It’s fun, though, because it’s always something different. I think if I did exactly the same sewing stuff all the time, that would make me crazy,” she said. “I think part (of why I like it) is the artistic part of it (and) the engineering part of it. The alterations part — taking something that’s already done, dismantling it from the inside and putting it back together so no one knows it was done — is a bit of an engineering feat. A lot of seamstresses don’t like doing alterations, they’d rather build something. I guess I just grew up doing everything.”
Robb started sewing at a young age, looking over her mother’s shoulder. Now, her skills have expanded, and are mostly self-taught. She tackles everything from simple zipper repairs to suit and wedding dress alterations. She also designs, and hopes to start her own clothing line some day.
When asked what her favorite type of sewing project is, she had to think for a while. Wedding dresses are pretty fun, she admitted, excluding tedious hemming tasks.
“I had a Vera Wang wedding dress this year that a local gal had me redesign,” she said. “It just blew my mind, but she liked the entire dress except for this one funny thing on the front. To be asked to redesign a Vera Wang wedding dress was pretty cool. It was just really fun that she entrusted me to do that.”
Robb’s design repertoire also includes the Ullr costume, worn by local John Forsberg during Breckenridge’s annual Ullr Fest. Last year, Robb and her friend Sally Ensign worked to create a new and authentic outfit for the representation of the Norse god of snow, replacing the former costume, a tattered Denver rental. The new look includes at least eight different types of fur, a staff, shield and bow and arrows.
The latest challenge
Robb wasn’t sure she would be able to top the success of the Ullr costume, until this summer, when she was contracted to tailor the outfits for the Australian Olympic freeski and snowboard teams. Since then, she has been hard at work fitting two matching outfits each for 21 Olympians.
“That’s been really fun and a really cool challenge and a wonderful gig. They’re amazing, friendly, nice people,” she said. “It’s just been a challenge; it’s a really tight time frame and it’s a lot, but it’s an honor to be asked to do it. I’ve done work for Shaun White and Gretchen Bleiler before, but not something of this caliber.”
Robb estimates that on average she has anywhere from 40 to 70 jobs waiting for her every day, and that doesn’t count emergency alterations and rush orders. Still, she’s happy to do it, and does most of the work herself, though occasionally she will turn to assistants. She’s taken on Britta Bowers to help out with the Australians, for example.
“I try to do as much of it as I can myself, but it’s a lot. … I don’t have a slow season ever anymore. Nope, never,” she said, then added with a laugh, “It’s really crazy.”
Crazy, she clarified, but in a good way.
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