Maine program for foreign-born entrepreneurs helps Russian immigrant launch sewing business

Russian immigrant Irina Zhidovtseva opened Four Seasons Alterations and Sewing last month on Route 1 in Freeport.
Brendan Twist | The Forecaster
Russian immigrant Irina Zhidovtseva opened Four Seasons Alterations and Sewing last month on Route 1 in Freeport.
Posted April 04, 2014, at 2:07 p.m.

FREEPORT, Maine — Russian immigrant Irina Zhidovtseva dreamed of opening her own tailoring business, but when she decided last fall to take the plunge and make it happen, she wasn’t sure how to begin.

“Where should I go?” she asked. “Who should I talk to?”

Zhidovtseva started with the Freeport Economic Development Corp., where Executive Director Keith McBride gave her a homework assignment: Visit every clothier on Main Street to gauge interest in a seamstress service.

McBride said many would-be entrepreneurs never pay him another visit after being sent on such fact-finding missions.

But Zhidovtseva was back in his office the next day with a stack of notes. The response had been positive, and she was ready to get to work.

Fewer than six months later, Zhidovtseva has opened Four Seasons Alterations and Sewing on Route 1.

“When I lived in Russia, I didn’t know it would ever happen to me,” she said. “I didn’t know it could be reality. But here, I can do it.”

Zhidovtseva, 37, grew up in Belgorod, a city of about 350,000 people located near the Ukrainian border. She taught first grade for six years before moving to the U.S. in 2006 and settled in Freeport. She soon went to work for Svetlana Custom Clothing and Couture, a Yarmouth business owned by a fellow Russian immigrant, where she honed her craft as a tailor.

By last year, Zhidovtseva felt she had acquired the skills and business acumen to strike out on her own.

After several meetings, McBride referred her to Coastal Enterprises, a business development corporation with offices across the state. There, she received assistance through StartSmart, a program that aids foreign-born entrepreneurs. John Scribner, the program director, helped Zhidovtseva estimate revenue and startup costs and analyze competitors.

“When she started to see on paper that it could really work financially, it only made her more motivated to bring it to the finish line,” McBride said.

Zhidovtseva offers alteration, sewing and clothing repair services of all kinds, specializing in wedding and prom dresses, and same-day service. She plans to offer sewing classes and produce handmade veils and bridal accessories.

While she said that someday she’d like to open a wedding consignment store, she’s focused on establishing Four Seasons and building relationships with customers.

Zhidovtseva returns to Russia every year. She said she misses her family, but she never considers going back permanently. She became a U.S. citizen and said she loves her new country and new hometown of Freeport.

“The streets are clean, the people are kind,” she said. “It’s like a fairy tale story.”

 

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