High tech haberdashery

For some, the height of luxury involves multiple consultations with a tailor, deciding on details such as a classic peak versus a notch lapel on a suit jacket, before waiting eight to 10 weeks for that perfectly fitted, handcrafted garment. But as much as fashion is witnessing a return to su misura services, there is brisk business to be made in the realm of instant gratification and convenience.

Enter e-retailers hawking easy-to-navigate interfaces, myriad choices and often wallet-friendly prices, to men who want to look dashing without the hassle.

Singapore-born Heikal Gani is one of the first to have spotted the potential for a convenient and affordable suit shopping experience.

As a student at Canada's University of Victoria, Mr Gani developed a business plan with best pal Kyle Vucko for an online menswear business in 2007. Rather than selling designs by existing clothing brands, they offered made-to-order suits with just a few clicks. To date, the Canadian-based company Indochino (www.Indochino.com) has suited 120,000 men in 130 countries, and raised over $14.8 million in a series B round of financing to grow the business last year.

"Most guys appreciate the convenience of shopping online, and with our process you can buy faster than driving to your nearest store," says Mr Gani, who graduated with a double major in psychology and political science.

"The biggest evolution in the market since we've started has been the number of options for guys who want to shop online. This is a good thing, because guys today care a lot more about how they dress and want more options when it comes to clothing choices, fit and style."

Since the pioneer in menswear tailoring has gone live seven years ago, several new players have emerged on the market, including the newest kid on the block, homegrown company Tailor Me Online (www.TMO.sg). Entrepreneur Ken Yuen and civil engineering graduate Marcus Lio recently launched the e-commerce business retailing customisable shirts, suits and even shoes. Made-to-measure shirts are constructed in just two weeks.

"We want customers to enjoy the best of both worlds - old-world tradition of haberdashery and convenience through online customisation," explains Mr Yuen, who started the online portal in 2013, two years after launching the bespoke tailoring business.

"We want to make custom (clothing) accessible to men around the world. Men are working longer hours. They deserve to wear better custom clothing instead of mass-produced, mannequin-sized garments."

Applying his technical background to the business, Mr Lio developed a "scientific method" of measurement, taking into account one's skeletal structure to calculate a fit that is 80 per cent accurate. But while picking out a well-fitted shirt online is fairly easy, the duo advise customers to visit their showroom for more accurate measurements.

Customers' profiles are then stored online for future purchases.

High thread counts

And it isn't just male entrepreneurs who are joining the virtual tailoring fray. Sherrey Chng-Bahuguna started her online shirt boutique ButtonNStitch.com in 2012, selling designs made from fabrics with high thread counts and two-ply, pure cotton.

"Being an avid online shopper and personal stylist for my husband, it bothers me to spot a good-looking guy in a 'structure-less' shirt with frayed collars, loose threads or even mismatched patterns on a shoulder yoke," says the mother of two. "Men are generally not into fast fashion or what we consider 'wear and throw' fashion, but shirts with good quality and cut usually come with prices that create a dent in the pocket."

The businesswoman, who reveals that 75 per cent of her clientele are repeat customers, unveiled her first brick-and-mortar space on Thursday - a pop-up store set up at Tangs Vivocity where customers can try on the brand's designs till April 16.

And she isn't the only e-retailer to offer consultations in the flesh. Indochino holds a series of "Traveling Tailor" events in Canada for men to meet with a stylist, feel the fabrics and talk through their customisation options.

"We started online, but when we realised there were men who wanted to shop in person, we took what we had learnt to launch Traveling Tailor," explains Mr Gani. "It's the same measurement and customisation process online and offline, and an equally beautiful and convenient experience.

As a business, we also benefit from the chance to meet our customers in person and learn more about what they're looking for when they shop."

Apart from businesses targeting corporate types who live in pin-stripes and sombre suits, entrepreneurs Gad Tan and Zin Cattell, who are trained in web and fashion design respectively, created Menswearmenswear.com for more sartorially adventurous men.

Established last year, the duo specialise in pieces with eye-catching fabrics and witty details. It also breaks the mould of online stores featuring a whole slew of designs and customisable options.

Instead, it offers just one style this season - an unstructured, single-breasted sports jacket, available in seven fabric options and customisable sleeve lengths and sizes. It comes with straps to allow the wearer to tote it, rucksack-style, when the weather gets too warm.

"We do with a carefully curated selection each season (four seasons per year, and all designs limited to 100 pieces each) instead of masses of choices and styles that confuse and turn off the shopper," elaborates Mr Cattell, who targets male shoppers who usually buy higher-end high street togs.

But while the online platform is a godsend for time-strapped men, nothing quite replaces the experience of a one-on-one consultation with a tailor.

"As fashion advisers, we guide our clients throughout the whole process from the foundation till the actual canvas is crafted," adds Mr Yuen.

"At every step of the way, we are here to help our clients through the process of creating their ideal suit - selecting the most prominent aspects of creating the perfect suit; also solving dilemmas such as choice of fabric, colour, style, cut and design." And if leaving your desk is too much trouble, there's always a consultation via webcam. Welcome to the world of high-tech haberdashery.

This article was published on April 5 in The Business Times.

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