Helping Customers Look Good

Linda Dela Cruz
Wednesday - February 25, 2009
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Lucy Palmer and ‘Mom’ Lek White at work

Lek White is a wizard with a pincushion, a pair of scissors and a sewing machine. She hems pants, takes in clothing, alters sleeves and does other repairs at her Designer Alterations shop.

“We do whatever a customer needs,” says White. “Even just sewing on a button. We help them look good.”

Whether it is adjusting a wedding gown for the big day, making an evening gown fit better for a beauty pageant or altering a new outfit for a trip to Vegas, White looks forward to continuing on for many more years in business. At her side is her niece Lucy Palmer, who is growing into an alteration maven under the tutelage of her aunt.

Word of mouth is how most people have heard about the 21-year-old business.

White describes a recent job where a pair of pants needed to be shortened with a logo removed and re-attached.

“When he tried them on, he said he couldn’t believe it,” White recalls about the customer’s happiness with her work.

Palmer, who affectionately calls White “Mom,” says customers are impressed when White can fit a wedding dress, as folks often order them from the Mainland, and then need to adjust them. “That is a lot of work,” explains Palmer. “We pay attention to the customers. For example, when people get older, their legs are different, as in one hip is higher. She notices all the small differences.”


She also accepts vouchers from employees of Hawaiian and Northwest airlines who need their uniforms fixed.

White says the turnaround time is generally about a week.

“It makes me happy when customers try on the clothes and they say, ‘This is marvelous!’ I like it when they walk out of here happy with what we did.”

For White, the seeds for owning her own business were sown at an early age as she needed to fend for herself the best she could after her mom passed away when she was only 2 years old, and her father died when she was 17. Growing up as the third of five children, her family didn’t have enough money to put her through school past sixth grade. That didn’t stop her, as she did alterations at a military base in Thailand for five years, and also in Tennessee before moving to Hawaii in 1986.

She soon landed a job doing alterations with Oak Tree Clothing at Windward Mall. After a while, Oak Tree sold her the industrial sewing machine she was using, allowing her to do repairs at the shop and keep any money she earned from the repairs. But soon Oak Tree refused her the space, so in June 1988, she started Designer Alterations at her own location in Kaneohe.

Over the years, she’s never forgotten her humble start. She helped put her niece through college, and now White also is supporting a poor student in Thailand.

“I asked a family member, who is a teacher, to find a student who works hard but needs help,” she says about the young person’s photo hanging in her shop. “I can’t do a whole lot, but if I can help one, that is good.”

For White, giving to others includes feeding the hungry at Honolulu Church of God, where husband Douglas is pastor. She acknowledges becoming a Christian as an important step to her success, as is the love of her family including son Wayne, and son Christopher, who died in 1974.

Designer Alterations is located in Kaneohe at 45-1048 D Kamehameha Highway in the T. Yogi Building. It’s open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. Call 247-6483.


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