Sometimes, chance and coincidence makes us stumble upon some interesting people who leave a profound impact on us about a particular subject. Talking to these people, who for some reason always belong to business/life sector we are not directly involved in, opens up our brains and wets our appetite to know more about the field they specialise in. Something similar happened to me last weekend.
I had the pleasure to meet and befriend Paul Kewin, head of design and buying at Charles Tyrwhitt. For those of you who don’t know Charles Tyrwhitt; its a mid/up market British formal-wear designer and manufacturer with a flagship store on London’s historic Jermyn street. Their suits are off-the-self (OFS) but the fitting experts at the stores spend good time on you and make sure the final result is very “close” to that of made-to-measure (MTM) suits. Recently, I bought a suit from them and an excellent chap called Saif spent over an hour fitting the suit for me. A few days later, I got the suit back and voila! it was amazing and rested on my body as it was ALMOST a MTM suit. Given the state of knowledge and hunger for proper fashion amongst us men, many of us will even go further to call such a suit “Bespoke”, which is certainly touching the boundaries of fashion blasphemy. The difference between the 3 categories which I have talked about above is stark. We will discuss this further in a bit.
A while ago, I was told by a lady on Tinder “It is such a shame that many today’s men don’t even own a suit” My response: “To be honest, not owning a suit sometimes is much better than owning a crap suit!”
In the current market, a suit from CT, Zara, M&S and Boss is fairly acceptable. Some of us will even flog an OFS suit made by a reputed brand and be proud about, even if it sits badly on our shoulders. But according to Paul this is all about to change…
The current market
Now, for a moment, let’s discuss the major differences between an OFS, MTM and Bespoke suits. As someone who has had the privilege and chance to wear Bespoke suits before, I certainly saw and felt the difference in all these “types” of suits to be considerable. The moment you put that bespoke jacket on, you feel special as if this is just for you (Well it is…). For a man, for some reason, it also brings a sense of achievement but for now I will leave that subject on the side.
A suit on Jermyn street, or Oxford/Bond street, (mostly OFS) will set you back anywhere between £500-800 and no doubt it will be a good piece of tailoring, however there will be some parts of the suit that just wouldn’t fit you well. You would just have to say “meh…” it doesn’t matter if its a little long or it doesn’t really sit 100% on my shoulders. So essentially, an OFS suit is NOT made for your, its just fitted after its made.
MTM suits are in the middle and trying to address an arising desire of the “Mass Bespoke”. In the case of MTM, the patterns are altered and fitted to your size BEFORE the suit is made. Let me give you an example. Every jacket size has a set pattern and an MTM tailor will take these patterns and MODIFY them according to your body. You will also be given a choice of Fabric from 1-2 mills and you will have a couple of fitting/sizing sessions. You will probably never see the tailor but an experiences sales person will be there to take your size and do the measurements. A suit made to measure starts around £1200, however there is a lot of companies now manufacturing these suits abroad and bringing the price right down to the OFS range.
However, take a stroll down Saville Row and just peep into the shops and you will realise why a Bespoke suit will start around £3,500. The patterns are not modified but MADE according to your body. There is an extensive choice of fabric from 10+ mills. You will have multiple fitting sessions and the skeletons of the suit will be made for fit your body. Plus, you will be in constant touch with the person who actually makes your suit. There is no doubt, however, that you need to be earning a pretty good wage to be able to have a couple of these in your wardrobe.
So this is the present or the status quo. There are many OFS suits companies, including some big high street brands who will fit the suit for you after it is made. Many of us are just happy getting a Zara or CT suit and getting it fitted. Some of us will go further and trust designer brands like Boss or Zenga (some of them also do MTM suits). Currently. the psychology of an OFS suit buyer puts stress and importance on brand names as you are trusting the quality of their design and manufacturing. Knowing that you bought a suit worth £1,000 from Boss is satisfactory for many bankers of today.
The cultural change
However, something is changing. The advent of 3D printing and extreme customisation is impacting how we think about brand names and quality. As Paul clearly pointed out during our conversation, 3D printing is NOT going to enable us to make bespoke suits for everyone, however, it will change the way people think about personalisation and customisation. This phenomena is already evident as more and more MTM suit companies, which hardly have any brand recognition, are entering the market and doing very well. Paul believes that technology (3D printing and other such enablers) will have a deep impact on brands and mass production. He believes that the fashion/garment industry has to evolve and start thinking of Mass Bespoke where people will be made to feel that clothes are made “specially” for them. He believes, big brands who currently mass produce in countries like India and China will struggle to keep a foothold in the market as mentalities and thinking about clothing changes.
It is not only the psychological impact 3D printing will have on buyers, but fast wage rise in many developing countries will also lead to a re-think of the industry. He believes, companies should be very hands on with technology and should be researching new ways of optimising the Mass Bespoke category. When people will be able to print their own shoes, accessories, even jewellery to some extent, the need and urge for a customised yet affordable suit/dress will rise. Brand names wouldn’t matter then. Of course the experience and minds of designers will still be important, but their roles will change. They will be more focused on the “experience” a piece of cloth will provide to a person, instead of designing patterns for a mill. People will start demanding almost control and access to the basic structure of everything. We can even print a house from a 3D printer now, so why can’t we have a suit which is made for me? Ever wondered why Android is growing much faster than iOS in many countries? It is because the former let’s you customise your phone/device and indulge in a very unique experience which iOS still restricts.
Designers and their brands will still matter but not their clothes. They will only be successful if they provide a very unique experience to the buyers.
Paul clearly believes that we as fashion conscious humans will move beyond the concepts of brands. Technology will enable us to enjoy on demand and custom made experiences and products. Companies holding the fashion and high street market for sometime need to rethink and adapt to this changing landscape. The fashion industry should be taking hints from other objects of desire (The No Logo bike, The Unbranded Craft Beers) and should be ready to face this very unique challenge which is going to change the way we think and wear. Add to this the powerful media backlash of the “Real” price of cheap clothing and we have a perfect brew of change which brands should be aware of.
This article is written by Sebastian S Lyall, CEO and founder of Locappy, a Hyper Local Marketing platform helping small businesses connect to their neighbourhood. We also help our app users with genuine reviews and ratings about different places in your neighbourhood. Use our app to discover your neighbourhood!