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Small Business:
Seleh De Federal Hill
Seleh Rahman
Interview Date:
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“I grew up in a rough area but I knew in my heart that I didn’t want to end up being a bum. I was a scared kid. That’s all I knew and it’s all I could see, but my heart told me that there had to be a better way. 

When I was coming home one day, I went to the grocery store to buy a snack. I was a teenager at the time. There was an older guy there named Jessie Little. Jessie said, ‘How are you doing my friend?’ I said, ‘I’m doing okay.’ What he said next surprised me. ‘The word for the day is development.’ I told him that I’d never heard such a word. He said, ‘Develop your consciousness and develop your mind.’

Jessie was my angel. Everyone else I had met that was about his age would try to hustle me. He was different. From that night, I left all of the guys I was hanging with because I knew that Jessie was the answer to my prayer."

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Jessie Little (pictured left)

"The next day, I started looking for Jessie. Every night when he got home from work I was waiting on his steps. He didn’t have any children so I became like his son. He’d ask me all sorts of questions. Questions about my life, my purpose; he talked in a language I didn’t even understand. He saw something in me. He was teaching me to become a man. I had a new purpose. I had hope that I could become someone. That’s what made me want to go to school. 

I went to the Bay College of Maryland in 1976. It was an off-brand college on Howard and Central Street in Baltimore City. I had a female friend go in and take the entrance exam for me because I couldn’t read and write. She just put my name on the test. I had no other choice. It was survival. 

I was accepted and had to pick my area of study. Fashion was the only word I recognized on the list so that’s what I picked. I thought I’d go to class and learn about fashion, like putting on cool clothes or how to have better style. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The first day of class, my teacher, Ms. Selena Thomas, said that we were gonna learn how to make clothes. I thought she was crazy. I immediately wanted to get out of the class. I’d never seen a sewing machine in my life. 

Ms. Thomas told me to be calm. She explained that she’d teach me how to operate the machine, take measurements, and make a female skirt. She gave me the confidence to learn. 

Once I saw what I could do with my hands, I said, ‘From this day on, I’m gonna pick my own job.’ I had found my niche and I never looked back."

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"Before then, I never had an interest in learning how to read or write. Now I had a reason to learn because fashion involved a lot of reading and writing.  

I left home at about 18 years of age. I had a job putting on car tires and used that money to get my own apartment. I built my first sewing table with some scrap wood and found a used sewing machine at a local shop. I had an old shopping cart and that became my car. I’d go around knocking on doors saying, ‘Hey, I’m a tailor. Do you have any work for me?’ Sewing became my lifeline. I’d take the clothes back to my apartment which was my workshop for a few years. 

One day Jessie told me that he had a gift for me. He took me to this old beat-up shack and told me this was my new studio. I told him, ‘I don’t want this shack!’ And he told me to get my butt in there. He said that if I had faith, I had to walk the walk. I trusted him. It cost me fifty dollars a month to stay there. From that day, all day long, I fixed that shack up and knocked on doors nonstop. 

I continued learning my craft by asking local tailors if they would teach me. I was hungry. I was fixed on this new life because I didn’t want to go back. I had a purpose."

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"Jessie started teaching me that I had to develop a new positive attitude to become more than a tailor. I had to develop character. I had to be humble, kind, and upbeat; to always make things right with my customers. He taught me the principles for long term survival. 

My mother thought I was crazy because I had become an entirely different person. My old friends were beginning to dislike me because I wasn’t part of their team. They thought what I was doing was for girls. They started beating me up. The girls didn’t want to hang out with me either. I became a bit of a loner. 

Jessie gave me the strength to stand up and keep marching forward into my purpose to become a tailor, a great tailor. He taught me how to have the courage to put myself out there and not hide behind a mask."

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"I had another great teacher named Mr. Jimmy. Mr. Jimmy was a master furrier and taught me everything I needed to know about the art of designing and making fur clothing. 

After about eight years of grinding and learning everything I could, the people I grew up with started to respect me because I stayed the course. They weren’t messing with me anymore. They knew that I was a man who said what I meant and meant what I said. From that point on, I’ve been known as a tailor, designer, and furrier in my community."

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"My first long-term storefront location was here in Federal Hill about 32 years ago. I was in the downtown market center before, but it was more of the ‘come and go' crowd. The people here are much more community-oriented. They’d see me in my shop every day working hard and give me a lot of referrals within the neighborhood. I figured all I had to do was keep doing what I’m doing and they would spread the word. 

I’ve been doing this now for over 46 years. I love what I do, so getting up in the morning and coming in here is not hard. Sometimes it’s tiresome because I do most of the work, but it’s not hard because I love what I’m doing. I’ve been very blessed. I hope to continue this work for as long as I can."

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Seleh De Federal Hill
Established in 1975, Seleh de Federal Hill is the home of a master tailor, master furrier, and designer of fine clothing.
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