Ben P: How did you get started?
Carl Goldberg: I've been in the industry longer than the age of most of the readers of this article. Growing up, my family had an Army and Navy surplus store in Philadelphia, which I worked at as a kid. My father had really great taste in clothing. He had his first suit made at the age of 16. He then had suits and shirts made in New York City. Eventually he had suits made by two different tailors in Paris, one being Smalto, with shirts made by Lanvin in Paris and shoes at John Lobb Paris. He had quite an addiction to fine clothing , a habit many SFers know about first hand. Charles Goldberg passed a few years ago and I've inherited his wardrobe and wear a number of suits, ties and an amazing camelhair overcoat. As well as a mink lined short waisted jacket from Zilli. I was supposed to go into the family business, but after college I moved to New York and took a job working at Barney's downtown and then a job working at a clothing factory, owned by Julie Hertling. Julie, who is in his 80’s, makes trousers for several SF affiliates. I left the Williamsburg clothing factory to work for a company selling woolens to tailors. While I was there I met other people who had custom clothing businesses, but were not tailors. There was a fellow teaching a course on measurements and I took the class and then started making custom-made suits and shirts. This was back in 1983. Over the years I eventually gave up the suit business - I never felt I was as good at it as I was with shirts. Over the years I had different people doing work for me. We always made everything domestically, mostly in Newark, New Jersey, I also had some people sewing at home for me, and as my business grew I built a small shop as well. At this point I have about eight people working for me inside.
B: Are the majority of your shirts made in shop?
CG: We're still doing most of the work in New Jersey, but we're slowly shifting more of the production inside for a variety of reasons. I think my quality is better, I can get a better fit, and my turnaround time is faster.
B: When do you think you should go made-to-measure?
CG: What it comes down to, is this: if you don't really fit into the statistical average [of sizing] or if you can't get a shirt that fits the way you want it, then you go and have someone make it for you. The problem is a lot of people - especially in this mail-order age - they don't try shirts on in a store like you should. They order things, and are sometimes too lazy to send them back, and keep them. It can be hard to find the fit you want on a ready-made shirt. Many customers find they want a trimmer fit that they can't find, or they want particular little details. The biggest confusion I find is with the terms made-to-measure and bespoke. Now I don't know how other companies work their programs, but to me, if I make a shirt in the factory in New Jersey patterns are created via a computer program vs. a shirt in my own shop, Where we make a real paper pattern. we can shave a little here or there, but that's only when we're really getting picky.
B: Do you offer both bespoke and made-to-measure?
That's the thing - I'm a custom shirt maker. Let's leave it at that, because the term bespoke annoys me.
Bespoke is an archaic British term, that has no real meaning today. You can make a shirt pattern via computer or by hand and you can get a damn good fit both ways. My old Chinese guys who sew for me, make collar patterns only, for the rest they just start penciling the pattern on to the fabric. They don't even make patterns unless I ask them to.
B: A new customer comes into your shop and wants to get a shirt made. What can they expect?
I will always put a sample garment on them. I can take cold measurements off someone in a t-shirt, but I find today it's easier if I use a fitting garment, it gives the customer an idea of what they want or don't want. We'll still make a pattern - via computer or paper - but most customers come in wearing ill-fitting shirts. When they come in, I walk them through the process, and ask how they want the shirt to fit. I take measurements first. Then I'll ask about all the little details: sleeve placket, buttons, pockets or not, if they want a stiffer or a softer collar, how they care for their shirts, and then we'll pick out collar and cuff styles. From there we look at fabrics. Some of the decisions that need to be made depend on the price point. If I have someone who says "I don't mind spending $225, $300 for a shirt" I might just make it inside [my shop] because we do a better job. My cutter also can cut a shirt in less fabric. He can usually cut a shirt in at least ½” yard less then the factory.
B: When you make shirts in your shop, it ends up costing more?
It does. With a small workroom, I do not have the same economy of scale. One sewer usually sews the entire shirt, instead of single operations, like the factory. if I'm making shirts inside I ask for a larger minimum, a five shirt a minimum, and we'll make one to start. If I'm making in the factory we'll do a two shirt minimum.
B: What would you say the hallmarks of the shirts you make are?
We use great fabrics. I often buy secondary market fabrics and get great deals on Italian shirting. I pass this saving on to the customer. I think it is easier to make choices from a bolt of fabric, then a swatch book. We use European linings, and pearl buttons. The real advantage is that I talk to the customer and find out what they want made, instead of making the shirt I want made for them. I have over 30 years of experience. The qualitative is just as important as the quantitative.
B: You wouldn't say you have a house style?
No house style. I've got customers of all ages. Most of my customers are looking for a slimmer fit - not necessarily a stuffed sausage fit - a higher armhole, a trimmer sleeve.
B: You've been in the business a long time - what's your take on the influence on the internet on custom tailoring?
The internet has changed my business. In 2003 business was slow and I was considering shutting my doors. I was clued into the existence of the new clothing forums and through those I was able to educate readers on technical and fit questions regarding shirts. Those early internet customers gave positive reviews which then brought in more readers, and that was the beginning of a whole new customer base for CEGO. On the flip side, everyone has an opinion, educated or not. The growth of ordering custom made shirts over the internet has made the business more confusing. You could give the same set of measurements to three different online factories and end up with three different fitting shirts.
B: Have you seen any websites that do good work?
Years ago, I gave measurements to Jantzen as a test. The shirt that came in fit well. There were a few little things that needed some changes, it was based on measurements I took but in general it was a good fit.
B: And you know what you're doing.
I hope so. I've seen certain websites that I don't even understand how they want you to take measurements. Thick as Thieves had the worst measurement chart I'd ever seen. I had no clue how they wanted measurements taken. And I'm someone who used to make suits for people!
B: Have you ever considered adapting your business to an online model?
I have a potential way of doing it that would include a fitting model. Similar to what Kent Wang is doing - and I've done that for years, sending out a couple of fitting models and getting someone to take pictures and measurements. There's a possibility, but it's not really what I want to do.
Stay tuned for Part II.
For more information on CEGO - especially for New York locals - check out their website.
Title image from Keikari.