What’s a $4,000 Suit Worth?

Discussion in 'Classic Menswear' started by TRINI, Sep 4, 2012.

  1. add911_11

    add911_11 Senior member

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    After reading the article and comments below, I think of a new 'political' campaign or facebook movement.

    'Support your local trade, make your community a better place' with members contributing various ways to the local business e.g. dining at non-mass chain resturant, buying at local market....

    This might work very well.....

    Not necessary bespoke suits/ clothing criteria, but in some problematic areas e.g. cars, IT, watches, restaurants, I honestly think that will be the best political agenda for any election.
     
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2012


  2. Holdfast

    Holdfast Senior member

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    I appreciate that this a controversial perspective on this board, but I don't think it's a bad thing that the clothing marketplace has a wide range of price points and quality levels. The reality is that even among those abnormally interested in clothes, very few are willing to pay for bespoke anything. This forum is evidence of that; the number ordering bespoke is surprisingly low when you think about how much we all like clothes. The number ordering more than 1 or 2 bespoke items per year (roughly my limit) is even smaller.

    To expect the general public to pay bespoke prices for their clothes is untenable so a large, diverse clothes production base with economies of scale is necessary to satisfy the vast majority. The article's general thrust is that a lack of economies of scale is bespoke's Achilles heel. In fact, it's probably its saving grace. It means that micro bespoke operations (like Mr Frew's in the article) can potentially be almost as profitable per unit as the bigger bespoke tailoring houses. That should ensure some form of bespoke will continue to be available in the tiny cracks of the economic ecosystem both of the biggest/richest cities and perhaps part-time in unexpected places in the provinces. You don't need to sell tens of thousands of suits per year; 50-100 might be enough for an individual tailor to be content with. It's a different mindset to starting a business with a plan of making it big. Without the ability of such tiny businesses to grow like weeds in the cracks between the international clothes businesses, they would probably go bust altogether. Of course, history suggest that a lot of these tailors do either go bust or go into other/related businesses rather than continuing to offer bespoke, but enough new ones seem to come along that number titrates itself relatively well versus the limited but not negligible demand out there. It will never be a popular clothing option, but I don't think it's about to disappear altogether. The skill base able to train the next generation is admittedly small/narrow but if anything, seems to be stabilising now after a period of relative decline. It can't be a big industry in the modern age, but it doesn't really need to be.
     
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2012


  3. Eustace Tilley

    Eustace Tilley Senior member

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    While I agree with the gist of your post, I think you've fallen a bit for Mahon's online propaganda. I've spoken to a few tailors about this (incl. his former colleagues who also use 'rock of eye') and they've all chuckled at the idea that using base blocks or starting with Thornton (both of which are heavily reworked for each client) somehow imply that the tailor has opted for a shortcut or has a lower skill base.
     
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2012


  4. dddrees

    dddrees Senior member

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    The mechanichal luxury watch manufactures faced this same challange from the late 60's to the early 80's when the quartz watch practically took over the industry. Many of the manufactures were forced out of business, and others were sold to bigger conglomerates. They eventually found their niche and they survived and have bounced back rather strong.


    I hope your right about this skill as well.
     
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2012


  5. edmorel

    edmorel Quality Seller!! Dubiously Honored

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    just going to disagree with you here. On your first point, Greenfield does bespoke (and handwork), although the majority of his business is RTW. Regardless of what you think of his work, his shop is a good example of how to survive and make money by offering different products to different people.

    As to why some bespoke makers don't make much, 1 and 2 have very little to do with it.


    I would not extrapolate much from an article on one unheard of, unknown, bespoke maker working out of his apartment. The bespoke business is a business like any other, the goal is to convince customers that they should part with their money on your product as opposed to the other guys product. How you do the convincing is where you make or lose money. Marketing, availability, uniqueness/quality of product etc have a lot more to do with your bottom line than handwork and numbers of fittings. If you want to stay as an individual tailor, doing every single aspect of the suit, then you need to realize that you have made a decision that is going to hamper your profitabilty, production, customer interaction and possibly even keep you in the red. The salesman idea for this guy sounds like a pretty awful one to me.
     


  6. jrd617

    jrd617 Senior member

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    +1
     


  7. TRINI

    TRINI Senior member

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    The salesman concept seems common as the guy I use has also mentioned it.

    I also think it's important to make the distinction between tailors (the single man shop where the cutter, fitter, sewer, finisher, etc are all one guy) and tailors (an actual business operation with multiple personnel).
     
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2012


  8. dieworkwear

    dieworkwear Senior member

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    My point wasn't that one was about cutting corners and one isn't. (I don't think Mahon makes those claims, actually, anyway) My point was that one is more scalable than the other. If a tailor has to do everything himself - the cutting and the fitting - it's a lot more difficult for him to scale his business than if he can have other people go around the world to fit clients for him. I think whether he can successful do that is tied to the pattern drafting method he's trained in. Rock of eye, as I understand it, demands that the cutter fits the client.


    I wasn't aware he did bespoke. I thought he only did MTM? I stand corrected.


    Not sure what you mean by "salesman idea," but I agree it's a problem if someone has to do every part of the business. That's what I was trying to get at.
     


  9. unbelragazzo

    unbelragazzo Jewfro Dubiously Honored

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    The article says he basically hires a salesman to bring him customers. But obviously he has to pay this salesman. The problem in this case is not that he's doing everything himself, but that he's paying someone to do this part, which seems to be a high-margin aspect of the business, whereas the tailor is doing the low-margin part.
     


  10. unbelragazzo

    unbelragazzo Jewfro Dubiously Honored

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    The point is that it's a business that has a cost curve that's becomes convex (equivalently, diminishing marginal returns start at a low production level) very quickly. For a RTW producer like Banana Republic or something, the third thousand pants has a lower marginal cost than the first thousand pants. For a bespoke producer, even the third dozen suits is likely to be more expensive to produce than the first dozen suits. It becomes hard to find the skilled labor, etc., and there's not much knowledge or parts of the production process coming from the first dozen that helps in making the third dozen.

    You might think, well, suppose a tailor gets really popular and they want to use that popularity to make more money - even if they can't increase production that much because the cost curve gets too steep, they can make more money by charging more for what they do make. This is true, but at some point, there's a limit where it just gets offensive to people, including old customers. The demand curve has a slope too. And there's always the RTW market to compete with. After you get past something in the $6-8k range, you just can't really make more money by charging a higher price (at least that's what I deduce from the fact that this seems to be the top end, K50 and Bijan notwithstanding).
     


  11. edmorel

    edmorel Quality Seller!! Dubiously Honored

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    Thats actually not true, at least from the fabric/trim perspective, as the more you buy the cheaper it gets and repitition in anything will lead to a reduction in the time it takes to make (or at the very least it becomes something that can be taught to be done quickly). In terms of skilled labor, the tailors on here are in a much better position to answer than me but there are a lot of skilled people working/available in the trade, at least here in NYC. The minute you decide that you are going to do everything yourself and not outsource to other workers/factories, you are going to be capacity constrained and you can only take on but so much business, regardless if there is demand for more. The best thing this guy can do is outsource something like the trouser making, or the cutting and increase his capacity. Or get rid fo the salesman, hire a cutter or seamstress and work out of the offices of one of the cloth merchants in the city. The salesman can bring in 10 new customers tomorrow and it will be all for nothing as those guys would need to wait forever for their garments.
     


  12. unbelragazzo

    unbelragazzo Jewfro Dubiously Honored

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    ^That may be true, but it leads necessarily to a change in the product. At least from an outsider's point of view thinking about it, there's only so much you can increase production while still retaining the inherent quality of the product. Even within a tailoring house, once you hire a cutter, there will be variance from cutter to cutter, and it's really like you've got a few related and cooperative tailoring houses under one roof. "Capacity constrained" is just a special and extreme case of a convex cost curve.
     


  13. edmorel

    edmorel Quality Seller!! Dubiously Honored

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    but thats where the business has gone (Savile Row, Naples) and very few outsiders, outside of internet cothing nerds, care to know who the cutter is or if the person measuring is the person cutting etc. The end product is all that matters. My whole take on this particular tailor is that he has set himself up for either a very small business or a very quick "burnout" where he feels like he is running in quicksand. At $4K a suit, I am surprised he is even making as much as 50K a year given fabric/trim costs and commissions to the salesman. This is probably as good as its going to get for him in his current incarnation.
     


  14. unbelragazzo

    unbelragazzo Jewfro Dubiously Honored

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    ^I agree - I'm not saying any of this is a bad thing. Or that it matters very much. I'm viewing it more as an attempt to explain why the business is moving in this direction.

    Further regarding the difference between houses in SR or Naples and RTW, even if you can hire cutters to scale up your business, good cutters do not grow on trees. Even if you can hire another 2 or 3 without compromising much on quality, you'll have a hard time finding 50 of them. Even if you can find as many as you want so that costs are not increasing, marginal costs are not going to decline very much because a cutter still has to cut each suit. Even if cutters get better with practice so that it doesn't take them as long, it will still take a lot longer and be more expensive than a machine cutting from a preset pattern.
     


  15. Eustace Tilley

    Eustace Tilley Senior member

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    I'm still confused as to why one is more scalable than the other. If you think that simply using Thornton, or an in-house block, as a starting point allows a tailoring business to more easily outsource the fittings then you are mistaken. As I mentioned earlier, these methods are used merely as starting points and are modified extensively by bespoke tailors. There's a reason why the non-'rock of eye'ers' like Poole, Huntsman, et al also send their cutters on international tours and not simply their front office staff.

    Rock of eye is just a fancy way of saying that the cutter uses a drafting system like Thornton, but directly chalks the pattern freehand unto the cloth. So, its basically the same as the drafting system, but it skips a step. How that translates into your postulation is beyond me.
     


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