Nova Scotia

Syrian tailor sews new life on Nova Scotia's South Shore

In the short time Rezan Iso has lived on Nova Scotia's South Shore, he's earned a reputation: he can make just about anything on a sewing machine.

Rezan Iso came to Canada as a refugee in 2016 and makes everything from yoga pants to evening wear

Rezan Iso started designing and tailoring clothing in 2007 while he was living in Damascus. (Emma Smith/CBC)

In the short time Rezan Iso has lived on Nova Scotia's South Shore, he's earned a reputation. He can make just about anything on a sewing machine. 

Iso, who calls himself the Syrian Tailor of Mahone Bay, arrived in the small community a little over a year ago with his wife Shahnaz and their young son after fleeing the civil war in Syria. 

Since then, his custom design and tailoring business has grown from a small operation in his basement to a storefront in Blockhouse, N.S., which opened last month. 

The space on the top floor of Ali's General Store is full of colourful thread, pieces of fabric and finished designs neatly arranged on a rack.

A stack of grey T-shirts adorned with smiley faces sit on his cutting table. 

"I make one every 25 minutes because it's cotton fabric. It's easy," said Iso, holding up the designs.

The Syrian Tailor of Mahone Bay opened above a general store in Blockhouse, N.S., last month. (Emma Smith/CBC)

While sewing seems like second nature to Iso, he didn't set out to be a tailor. He was enrolled in university in Damascus when a friend offered him a job making T-shirts and jackets for a large production company. 

He jokes that his knowledge of sewing back then was limited to turning on the machine. But before long, he'd mastered the machine, opened his own small studio and hired a team to work with him. 

In Damascus, Iso made hundreds of pieces of clothing a week.

Worked with local hat maker

Lunenburg hat maker Anna Shoub, who hired Iso last fall to help make hats, said his background in production often meant she was left trying to keep up.

Even though the two designers didn't speak the same language, Shoub said Iso would jokingly act out his frustration with her domestic sewing machines.

Customer Patricia McGill asked Iso to recreate her favourite jacket. (Emma Smith/CBC)

So she put the call out for funds so Iso could buy his own larger machines, and within 24 hours she'd raised $2,000. 

"He can do so many different things," said Shoub. "You can show him a picture of a dress and he'll just make it, which is quite a skill." 

'Absolutely gorgeous'

Iso makes everything from children's clothing to yoga pants and evening dresses.

Right now, he said he has about a dozen customers, most of whom stop by the store or call him with ideas.

Patricia McGill, who owns a horse therapy farm down the street from the new store, had Iso recreate a jacket she bought decades ago but wasn't ready to part with.

He also recreated several robes she's started giving away to her daughters. 

"It's as good if not better than the originals. They're absolutely gorgeous," she said. 

Rezan Iso hopes to grow his business and hire some employees. (Emma Smith/CBC)

McGill said she's been spreading the word about Iso's work.

"I know that he's going to have a huge success here," she said. "People want locally-sourced stuff, whether it's food that you eat or clothing on your back. We want to be able to link our arms in a community and support each other."

Hopes to expand

Iso said he likes Mahone Bay for the people he's met.

"For my family it's good because it's quiet," he said. 

But building a new business in a small community is also challenging. 

He dreams of expanding so he can employ the friends he's met in Chester and Halifax and be able to bring his wife's family to Canada.

"I need work. I like work," said Iso.

"I need to make small company here," he added. "It's good for me, for people, and for Mahone Bay."

About the Author

Emma Smith


Emma Smith is a journalist from B.C. who has covered rural issues and Indigenous communities. Before joining CBC Nova Scotia in 2017, she worked as the editor of a community newspaper. Have a story idea to send her way? Email