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Tillett’s Uniforms Inc. celebrates 35th anniversary

STANFORD — While Clydene Tillett Sluder was working at Mercer Dress in Burgin, she chose to leave her job and follow a co-worker who had decided to go out on his own. And, when he decided later to leave the apparel industry, she made another big move – going into business on her own.

Well, she wasn’t alone in the move. Sluder, her sister, Leota Tillett Padgett, and her brother, Herbie Tillett, bought into the business together, establishing Tillett’s Uniforms Inc. in 1984.

Now, the family-owned business, which primarily operates in manufacturing band uniforms, is celebrating its 35th anniversary. Sluder and Padgett, who already had 27 years in the garment business when Tillett’s first opened its doors, can still be found working on the floor at Tillett’s while their brother, a retired Air Force Lt. Col. and investment partner, makes occasional visits to the business. Their sister, Freida Gooch, is one of the employees who has been with the business from the start.

“We’ve been at this a long time,” said Padgett. “I’ve tried to retire, but it didn’t last long.”

Herbie Tillett made one of his most recent visits to Tillett’s this past Thursday as he joined in on the business’ 35th anniversary celebration party.

The celebration was a low-key affair, with Tillett’s treating their employees to a catered lunch of ribeye steaks and grilled chicken. At the end of the meal, before workers returned to their work stations, they were each given an envelope containing a small token of appreciation (a check).

“We couldn’t have done this without good workers, and we’ve had lots of good workers,” Padgett said. “We think of ourselves as a family of friends. One year, we all made quilt pieces which were to be made into a quilt for each of the workers and at the top it said, ‘A Family of Friends.’ That’s what we’ve always felt like.”

Tillett’s Uniforms Inc. got its start on Plum Street in Stanford and was a Main Street fixture for over 16 years before moving to its current location on Anderson Heights. The business employed approximately 20 at the start and currently has 11 workers on the floor.

Padgett said that over the last 35 years, the company has had around 120 employees.

While Tillett’s mainly deals with band uniforms, the company’s output has included cheerleading uniforms, women’s, junior’s and misses dresses and men’s and boys’ work clothing.Tillett’s has also produced clothing for a former local custom-design label, Sally Rowan.

“Yes, we’ve tried a few other things over the years,” Padgett said.

Tillett’s, which is a sewing contractor, has manufactured product for dealers in Kentucky as well as Florida, Michigan, California and Hawaii. Locally, Tillett’s has produced band uniforms for some high schools, including Lincoln County High School.

One of the most interesting and widely-seen orders filled by Tillett’s was back in 2010 when the business was chosen by David Atkins Enterprises, executive producer of the opening, closing and victory ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, to produce jackets to be used for the closing ceremonies in Vancouver, British Columbia. An unusual fact about the Winter Olympics jacket production was that the order had to be completed under an air of secrecy, with no details or pictures of the final design released or even the fact that it was a job Tillett’s was working on.

There was another “secret” project that recently occurred relating to Tillett’s, although the owners knew nothing about it.

Before Tillett’s broke for Thursday’s lunch and the anniversary celebration meal, Hope Hounshell, a current employee, surprised her bosses with a gift she made, a large, wooden string-art piece featuring Tillett’s Uniforms Inc. in lights.

“We always try to treat our workers like family and I think they feel that way,” Padgett said. “We are here every day for them and they are here every day for us. That is important for our business to keep going.”