Affordable custom-tailored shirts, anyone?

Affordable custom-tailored shirts, anyone?

UNCERTAINTY is an inevitable part of starting your own business, even if one is a student-entrepreneur starting on a low-risk venture. Which is perhaps why third-year undergraduates Charles Ng, Nigel Teo and Zhang Yaoxian are careful not to oversell Terzi, the custom-tailoring stall they recently set up on campus.

There is little of the eager marketeer in all three, who discussed the idea in their first year of university when they shared a corridor in one of Nanyang Technological University's (NTU) student halls.

Thinking about internship applications and the need to stand out at interviews got business school students Mr Ng and Mr Teo wondering where they could find affordable custom-tailored shirts.

"Especially for guys, we know that the fitting of a shirt is very important. But we did not know where to go. There were the cheaper neighbourhood ones but we were unsure of their quality. And then there were the expensive ones, but there wasn't really anything in between," said Mr Teo.

That was when they realised that there might be demand for something of assured quality at a more affordable price among their university peers - and a possible business idea.

With no contacts within the tailoring industry, no clue about suppliers, the three 23-year-olds decided to find out if their idea - of bringing affordable, tailored shirts to university students - was a workable one.

"When we looked at the tailoring industry, we felt that it looks like a sunset industry. Most of the tailors are in their 50s or older. But the demand will remain for tailored shirts, so we wanted to step in and get a slice of the market share as we expect that supply may fall," Mr Teo said.

Not knowing a thing about the industry, they had to learn from scratch how to take measurements accurately and relied on referrals from kind strangers to secure suppliers.

"We went sourcing for fabrics and would ask the people in the store if they have contacts of suppliers, seamstresses. Eventually, we found one that was willing to work with us," Mr Ng said.

That was more difficult than it sounded. "We had a hard time convincing them to work with us. They usually work on huge orders - for large retailers, on school uniforms," said Mr Teo.

But after making numerous samples with a number of seamstresses, they finally settled on one willing company which could offer the quality they were after.

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