Dapper, dressed, directed and determined describe Conway native Erik Sellers and define his creative journey.
“I was a creative kid,” Sellers says. “I always drew. I was an art guy. My dream was to become an artist for comic books.”
Sellers was encouraged through his childhood by other family members who had artistic gifts.
Before he was 10 years old, Sellers remembers hand sewing garments alongside his grandmother who made clothing for her own children and passed down the skill to her grandson.
His mother, Sally, was a single mother and served in the U.S. Navy. Sellers depended on his extended family for support.
“My mother is incredible, the matriarch of our family,” he says. “And we’re (Erik is married to Catherine Sellers) about to have her first grandbaby in November, so I am so excited about that!”
Sellers started his own business, J.M. Gentry’s, in 2016, and credits so much of his success to influential people in his life.
“The name pays homage to my Godparents,” Sellers explains. “He was a very dapper, elderly man and poured into me. I had a core of people around me in support.”
He fostered that gift of creativity through high school, eventually ending up at the University of Central Arkansas as an art major.
“I was an art major — the exact opposite of a math major,” he laughs with a wide smile. “I failed math. I had my work at the Baum Gallery and did well in my art classes, but I was terrible in algebra.
“I ended up graduating from Central Baptist College with a degree in Christian counseling and psychology. While at CBC, I started designing clothes, and I really felt like that was from God.”
With help from an advisor on campus, the 6-foot, 1-inch aspiring clothing designer secured an internship designing and sewing costumes for the college choir.
“It’s really where I got my base in learning to sew patterns,” he says. “It really pushed me into fashion.”
After college, Sellers went to work for Dillard’s in the tailored goods department selling suits. He constructed a portfolio of work, but after much effort, he was told he needed a degree to be a designer.
“I learned some hard lessons about the fashion industry,” he says.
Sellers served 10 years at Men’s Warehouse, honing skills that helped cultivate his passion for design. Then, he took a job at Greenhaw’s Men’s Wear in Little Rock that got him even closer to his desire to design.
“It was a really good opportunity,” he says. “I got more information about the business side of things, including how markets and dealing with vendors worked industrywide.”
But when the business slowed down, Sellers was let go and he officially started his own business.
“I really felt like it was time to branch out,” he says.
He signed up for help from the U.S. Small Business Administration SCORE program at UCA, researched and found local help for the mechanics of taxes and legal aspects of the business.
“When my CPA wanted a suit, that set me at ease,” he says. “She was my absolute first customer and that meant a lot. That meant, to me, she believed in what I was doing.”
Sellers began designing neckties and bowties before his business hit the ground. He said he was proud of the first bowtie he ever purchased, a Ralph Lauren, but realized commercial ties didn’t fit him well.
“I made the first one bigger, so it fit me,” he says. “It wasn’t long before I started doing custom orders for weddings and pastors.”
J.M.Gentry’s is about more than boweties, though. Sellers designs custom, tailored suits for men and women, even down to the lining. Dresses, slacks, luxury bags and even made-to-fit shoes with options for soles and leathers are in his arsenal now. He also does alterations.
“I have made suits for pastors and politicians who normally buy off the rack,” Sellers says. “But they’re happy when they have something that fits well and when they have some exclusivity in clothing. I can design and construct a suit for $600 or a suit for $6,000.”
He has a degree from the Arkansas Fashion School and has developed relationships with men’s stores in the region, including Greenhaw’s. He has vendors across the globe and has participated in a number of runway shows highlighting his talents.
“I like the classic side of things,” Sellers says. “My favorite designers are Ralph Lauren and Tom Ford. I like things tailored. I enjoy the complicated things and the simple things. Because of the work I do, customers sometimes don’t know exactly what they want, but they trust me to do it, and that means a lot.”
Follow J.M. Gentry’s on social media on Facebook at www.facebook.com/JMGentrys and Instagram at www.instagram.com/jmgentleman.