Walk into Barakat Bespoke, and it’s easy to become just as fascinated — nay, enamored — of the showroom as with the men’s custom clothing purveyed there.
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This showroom is a perfect marriage of industrial and pure glamour. A high ceiling. Exposed brick and padded-leather sections on the wall. Track lighting, whose centerpiece is a bouquet containing single hanging light bulbs of different sizes. Even the rich brown wooden front doors are a unique piece that you won’t find elsewhere.
Racks display men’s suits and accessories; shelves are adorned with large bound books that relate to tailoring. Twin mannequins display suit coats in progress. Dark-gray draperies are used as accents in the main room’s back. A comfortable sitting area is located in front of the photo wall. It also has a bar that is filled with premium libations.
Jenanne Filat is a fifth-generation tailor who specializes in men’s suits.
“I enjoy meeting new people,” She says. “I enjoy making them look good. And yeah, just being in the store around the clients is motivation enough for me. I love coming here daily.”
Filat’s appointment only business has attracted celebrities, politicians, and athletes — not that she is going to name-drop.
“I try to be as humble as possible,” She says. “I’m very, very, very thankful for the clientele I have. I’m very thankful for everyone that walks through that door. Whether they are a celebrity, politician, a regular person — everyone will get the same treatment from us. And I think that’s what really sets us apart, honestly, as well. … My client that spends $1,000 will get the same treatment as my client that spends $15,000.”
Filat isn’t modest about the services and goods she offers.
“I’ll go head to head with any luxury brand. We by far surpass anyone on the market — and we guarantee it, too.”
Barakat Bespoke is a specialist in custom suiting. Filat fashions casual suits, dressy suits, tuxedos — “any kind of suiting, any kind of trousers, shirts. The possibilities are endless with us. And if anyone needs anything that is nontraditional, we can help them with that as well.”
Filat also provides the accessories — the shirts, the ties, the hankies, the cuff links, even the sunglasses, working with what she refers to as “small, artisanal brands.” She’s also suited up women. Filat goes further and styles some of her clients, especially those who are busy.
“It’s just very unique nowadays to find someone that specializes in their craft,” Derrell Hartwick, president of the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, is also a client and friend of Filat.
“When you go and meet with Jenanne … I mean, she’s your best friend. She’s your custom tailor. She’s everything. And it’s just such a great experience that you go there. Every time is different, because every suit is different, unique. She’s got just the exact style that you want — anything.”
Is there a Barakat Bespoke suit he likes? “Yeah, my favorite suit is my next suit. … I love them all for different reasons.”
Barakat Bespoke apparel is not available in chain stores. A suit’s average starting price is $995.
But, Filat points out, “when you come in here, you have to keep an open mind of not to shop price. If you’re shopping price, it’s going to be overwhelming. You have to consider that you’re shopping value.”
And outfitting a clients is not a quick process. It takes six to eight weeks for a client to receive a Barakat Bespoke creation.
Filat will be there for her client from beginning to finish, despite her busy schedule that often involves overseas travel.
A LONG LEGACY
Filat came by all of this honestly.
Fawziya Barakat was her mother and the only child. She is the daughter of Nafez Filat, a late tailor, and The Stitching Post owner. Living in North Little Rock most of her life, Filat comes from a “long legacy in the family” of cloth merchants and tailors dating to 1893 Jerusalem.
A shelf in the store features a prominently displayed photo of Nafez filat in Chicago. It is surrounded by twin tie racks.
“My father immigrated here from Palestine in 1968,” His daughter says. “He actually went to Chicago first, and he ended up moving to Little Rock in the … early to mid ’70s after visiting his brother here. He liked it, so he ended up moving [his] shop to North Little Rock first, and then he ended up in downtown Little Rock on Seventh Street in the late ’70s.
“I grew up around tailoring and spent a lot time in his shop. I did pick up some things.”
Filat’s family constantly tried to discourage her from going into the tailoring business.
“Because they immigrated from overseas, they felt they were forced to work in this industry, basically,” she says. “They had no other choice. They didn’t have many opportunities for education… My father had less than $100 when he arrived. He built on this, and it was a very, very hard struggle for him. So I believe that they just associated this [business] with the struggle.
“When they came here, it was for a better life, and they wanted me to get educated.”
Filat did receive her education. The 1994 North Little Rock High School grad went on to study Arabic, Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard for one year. In 2010, Filat graduated from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock where she majored and minored both in international studies and political science. But, she was attracted to the family business.
This, she says, “was difficult in the beginning” for her father.”But then he saw what I was doing with everything.” Filat and her father had a talk about their business shortly before he died in March 2019. “He was very, very proud of the entire operation.”
Filat says she wants to continue the family legacy. The suitings were a good start.
“My father dropped out of school [during] middle school to do this. He was young when he started; he apprenticed for a long time. So it’s an art. … And I feel that this needs to continue. Of course, I work very, very hard to continue that legacy for him as well. It’s very important. It’s more than just a retail space. It’s more than just suitings. There’s a history here. … This is me.
“There’s not a single piece, or anything I do with any design work, that doesn’t … have a story,” Filat says. “It always involves something from my childhood, especially with our street-wear line. Every piece of clothing has a story. We want everyone who wears it to tell their own story.”
According to its website history, the Barakat Bespoke name goes back those five generations, but the current store made its debut in 2014.
AN UNEXPECTED BEGINNING
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The store was actually begun on behalf of her boyfriend at the time, Filat says. “He needed something to do. He was in finance. He had just lost the job. So we opened this. I branded [it]; I helped with it. I did everything so that he could have a space. Because he said, “I don’t want work for anyone anymore.”
“When we opened it, I was supposed to help somewhat, but I wasn’t supposed to be immersed in it. I was stepping away at that point from some of this stuff.” But exactly a week after the store’s opening, “he totally up and left without saying anything. So I was stuck here with the store, with all the debt.”
People see the store now, and her current success, she continues, but they don’t know “the struggle that I had to go through — emotionally, mentally — getting everything together. And I was a single mom at the time, too. I turned it around, and I made it happen, but it was not easy at all. And I mean it was very nontraditional, the way I handled the business.”
The business has, or course, evolved a bit over the years, Filat says. Although menswear is her specialty, the store didn’t do as much custom clothing when it opened. It started out doing more ready-to wear. Filat can tell you that some of her clients are from before the store opened.
“All of my clients have become very close friends of mine as well. They helped sustain the business; they helped me through the tough times.”
Filat recalls that the store has not used traditional advertising much; there were many walk-ins in the beginning. She started posting daily on social media. Filat’s business has been so successful that she now takes referral clients only. However, her employees are open to new customers. Other “advertising” for Filat has come through her appearances at such events as Arab Fashion Week.
Gina Radke, a speaker, author and business leader, first met Filat when she made custom suits to Radke’s husband in 2018. After a few years of their friendship, Radke purchased Souq, Filat’s luxury street-wear brand, which she launched in 2018.
Radke hired Filat as her stylist. She lauds Filat’s eye for fashion, which is “undeniable.”
“It’s her pure determination to make her way in men’s fashion that I find the most admirable,” Radke adds about Filat, noting that before the major local galas, “there will be tons of her clients in her store just so she can tie their bow ties for them. Her eye for detail and customer service are unmatched.
“She always seems to find a way when there is no way. She believes in helping others uplift themselves. She strives to honor the legacy of her father.”
THE BEST FABRICS
Filat sources the best fabrics to outfit her clients with.
“Everything we carry is 100% natural. Sustainable,” she says. She names her favorite company for fabric sourcing — Italy’s Vitale Barberis Canonico, dating to 1663. “They produce some of the best fabrics that I’ve seen.”
Each client is different, so she and her people make it their first priority to talk to their clients — “We get to know their goals, see what they’re trying achieve, and then we work with them on it and build it around them.”
Filat notes that her younger clients want something “super tight and tailored,” whereas her traditional clients still prefer suitings that are less so. But even among the younger ones, that preference may well be changing somewhat.
“The menswear industry … will see a shift usually every 10 to 12 years, a major shift in the style, and we’re going through that shift right now,” she says. “The past 10 to 12 years have been very tight and tailored suitings, and now the shift is going to a looser cut. Double-breasted is back. And we’re seeing a lot more color on the runways right now” — muted versions of traditionally bright colors. Another notable trend she mentions: mixing suiting looks with casual and street-wear. (The Little Rock market, however, is more conservative than in, say, Miami or New York, so the suiting-street-wear mix isn’t as strong here, she adds.)
These days, Filat also gives her attention to Souq. The eldest of her two sons, 21-year-old Neemo Hankir, is co-creative director. (Her younger son, Noah Hankir, is a senior at North Little Rock High.) The line has garnered a lot of international attention.
“We have gotten requests for it, and we are in talks with some of the biggest stores in the world,” Filat says. Souq has also made the runways of Arab Fashion Week. “My heritage is very important where I come from, so … everything is sourced, created and handmade in the Middle East.”
WORK AS HOBBY
When not creating wonderfully tailored clothing pieces, what does Filat like to do?
“There’s nothing [else]. That’s all my life,” she says. “Literally, I am always creating; it’s what I do. It is my passion. It’s my life. It’s my whole life. Architecture, by other people and artwork are my inspirations. I can’t look at anything that doesn’t inspire me to create something in my head. … Even while on vacation, I am always looking for something. I’m always on the hunt for anything that we can incorporate into our designs.
“It really does not feel like work, and I’m so thankful that I get to do this on a daily basis.”
Jayce Thompson, a Little Rock-based wardrobe specialist, sees daily evidence of this.
“Jenanne is one of the most knowledgeable people I know, especially when it comes to the world of luxury, style and fashion,” He said. “She will not be outworked, as her tenacious spirit won’t allow her to be.
“Jenanne will go above and beyond to ensure that everyone is treated with love, fairness, and care, no matter what it is. She is a person who believes in fairness and love.”
Filat’s goals for the future include expanding the Souq brand extensively, as well as expanding Barakat Bespoke into other territories.
“Many people come in and say, “Oh my God, you have to tell your story.” You have a fascinating story. … They tell a lot in the Middle East. … People share their stories, and you can only build that kind of relationship through face-toface interaction. This is a vital part of this business.”
At times, she sounds like a motivational speaker, something everyone tells her she should be.
“This is not something I do for myself. It’s for my people. It’s true, I do it for every Middle Eastern girl who doubts she can do it. Every girl who fears she won’t be able to does it. Every single one of those girls is my target audience. It’s possible. I encourage them to live fearlessly, take a chance and live life fearlessly. That’s the truth. My father was fearless. That was something I remember on a daily basis. He was also very encouraging and motivating.”
[One word to sum me up:]