Nighisti’s Fashion Lakewood Shopping Center

2000 Chapel Hill Rd., Ste. 41, Durham


“You see, my problem is that I like to redesign clothes,” says Nighisti (pronounced: nig-guh-stee) Selby, seamstress extraordinaire. “I like to create. And another thing, I like the women to look absolutely perfect.”

A long way from her native Eritrea (East Africa), Nighisti, who has been sewing since she was 14 years old, opened her shop in 1989. On this day, women traipse in and out of her dressing rooms in varying stages of “perfection,” some almost naked but for mere undies. They call her “Nikki” and “a miracle worker” for her skill at reshaping clothing to make it fit their wide-ranging bodies. “Women, particularly now, in America, they have shape,” she says. “And they make [the clothing] so shapeless and the cut so low that nobody can wear it. [Fabric] is my biggest problem–but really I don’t have any problem because I feel like I can make it work.”

She knows all her customers on a first name basis, and she tells them: “Let me just work with you and tell me what you want and we go from there.”

Mauve: What do you like most about your job?

Nighisti: It’s not even about sewing–it’s almost spiritual to me. It’s not that they have this dress and I fix it and that’s it. I want them to feel the dress–how it works with their bodies … so immediately, when a customer comes, [it’s not just] what they’re telling you, it’s what they’re not telling you.

How do you listen for what they’re not telling you?

I’m very in tune with peoples’ spirit. It sounds almost weird, but when they enter, I know exactly–I listen to them, their movement. You know in Africa, you don’t verbalize everything, it’s the body movement; so I watch their hands and all their expressions, then I know exactly what they’re telling me.

Literally–it’s so interesting–when I go outside the store, I am lost. But when I come in here I am so focused on what I need to do. I have to be honest with the customer, I have to love them in the sense that I have to give them more than sewing.

Does the Triangle suit you well?

Well, I could go other places, but I guess I’m very loyal. Money is good, you know, because you have to pay bills. But that’s not really what gives me pleasure. It’s not only clothes, because really, we need to serve the public: spiritually, emotionally and in different ways.

It seems that your customers feel very comfortable here.

Yeah, they think this is their home! In fact, they feel so good here, they dance sometimes because I have music here. When I get stressed out or something, I say, “come on, let’s dance!” And then when we stop dancing, I say, “now I feel better–let’s get back to work!”

So it’s not really about making the clothes look better–if I hear you correctly–it’s about making the customer look and feel better?

Absolutely. Absolutely. If I did not do that, then I would not be myself.

So if you had a store motto, what would it be?

Honesty and Integrity. Be honest to your customers, give them the best work you can, and have integrity in everything that you do.