Industry experts discuss the future of custom clothing

by Karen Alberg Grossman

It was another provocative panel on the future of custom clothing sponsored by Gladson, the Chicago Collective, and MR magazine. Panelists represented various segments of the business: custom clothiers David Heil from David August in L.A., Nicholas Hansen from Nicholas Joseph in Chicago, and Albert Karoll from Richard Bennett were joined by Emily Reuter from Trunk Club and Scott Shapiro from Syd Jerome, Chicago.

Among the topics of debate: whether or not the proliferation of inexpensive made-to-measure clothing is good or bad for the industry. Most think it’s fine, giving young guys a taste of well-fitted clothing that should ultimately inspire them to trade up. Reuter from Trunk Club spoke about their opening price made-to-measure program that has been enormously successful, starting at $895 and sold only at their six clubhouse stores, not online. David Heil, whose clients include celebrities and athletes, believes that these days, accurate measuring can well be accomplished online but the feel of the fabric cannot yet be transferred through cyberspace. He also believes that growth can come from tech fabrics, although these can be harder to work with at first since the production process might need to be tweaked.

Albert Karoll spoke to the pros and cons of custom clothing for women. “It’s 15 percent of our business and some of our top customers are women but it’s much more difficult. Women are very specific about what they want, require more fittings, generate more returns. Whatever you think you need to charge, add 25 percent.”

Other controversial topics: the value of Instagram (mostly yes), referrals (yes!), paid influencers (don’t bother!) and advertising (mixed opinions). Scott Shapiro from Syd Jerome, whose made-to-measure/custom business is 10-20 percent of his tailored clothing units but an impressive 30-40 percent in dollars, believes strongly in custom magazines with interesting/educational articles that inspire customers to come into the store. Albert Karoll has created a niche making tailored women’s suits for gay marriages and advertises in appropriate magazines to reach this customer.

Watch the entire panel discussion here.

One Reply to “INDUSTRY EXPERTS DISCUSS THE FUTURE OF CUSTOM CLOTHING”

  1. Sometimes I see trends that don’t appear to apply to certain parts of the country or excite those younger clients who now have more money than their parents did. As a Master Shirtmaker and owner of The King’s Collar on The Main Line, outside of Philadelphia, I seem to be the last Wo(man) standing. My colleagues have retired or passed on, and younger folks don’t seem to have interest in pursuing this apparel trend. My twenty-five year old grandson makes more money than I ever did or will ( a Millionaire already~!) and he tells me that his peers don’t see the value. They still want instant gratification and have no patience to wait for the turn-around required for a custom shirt ( and they don’t wear suits.) The new Prints and Floral fabrics are wonderful and this could entice them… ( I can dream, can’t I?) He tells me I’ll never make a living from shirts because custom is done and I tell him that’s it’s been my day job for 42 years and I love it still. In my ads, I say I make shirts for those whose options are ‘too tight, too large, too short or too BORING’. I’m blessed by the training I received and happy I’ve been able to pass it on by mentoring others. I just set an appointment from a client from 40 years ago who said he remembered me and he had to get his kids through Grad school first. I told him, “We both sound younger than our years and I’m thrilled to be remembered.” I’m one of the lucky ones. I love what I do and I’m proud to be one of those still “standing.”

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