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The suiting thread


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Standard Chartered's credit card marketing department just called (out of the blue, as always) offering to include me in their The Good Life programme. Basically, I will appear in their marketing, and in turn, I need to offer say a 10% discount to StanChart cardholders.

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The phone did not ring with an interesting proposition on the other end today. What did happen was, as I was getting into the car, a stranger came right up to me and said, "Hi Jeremy, I'm L. I recognised you from the photos." He's tall and conspicuously young. "You look older than in the pictures."


L. went on to tell me he works in a tailoring shop, and that he really admires the pictures I take for the business. I asked him if he is an employee in that shop. Hearing that he is, I then went into a job interview mode. And why wouldn't I? A young guy who speaks English relatively well and good looking too with a strong interest in tailoring? There might be a grand total of one, or maybe two in the whole of KL. I asked if he's in a hurry because if not, let's have a drink.


Indoors over drinks, we shared info about our respective revenue levels, garment volume, product mix, rent and marketing channels. This is the equivalent of dogs sniffing each others' anuses to find out how rich the diet of the other is. I learn his shop has significant road frontage on the ground level of a hotel within the Golden Triangle. It is a rather new shop, about a year old. His revenue is a whole chunk lower than mine. The bulk of revenues come from shirts and odd trousers; suits are a relatively insignificant source of revenue. I told him his shop must be loss-making. Who is the proprietor? I wanted to know. "My dad," he replied. Right after which, I dropped out of job interview mode and regarded him as a competitor.


When he learnt I hired nobody on salary, he remarked I must have quite the income. I told him this is not a situation I like to be in. I should have someone salaried helping me. He got a bit excited at this and asked if I'm hiring for a sales position, which is his term for a customer-facing person.


I got stuck trying to answer this question. I have always believed that whoever faces the customer must be profoundly technical. This person can help a customer find a very good solution, is a masterful fitter, a methodical cutter of every single sort of garment we sell and who can troubleshoot a large spectrum of problems that the sewing tailors encouter. When he sees a nest of thread on the inside of shirts, he knows the shirtmaker has nedlected to clean the compacted lint out of the bobbin area of the sewing machine. He knows when the orientation of canvasses is wrong, he knows when the thread tension of the sewing machine has been maladjusted. He is sovereign in dealing with 70-year old career coatmakers who would leer at you when they find out you don't know your stuff. Instead, the sewing tailors respect him (some begrudgingly, of course). When he leaves the presence of a sewing tailor, the latter feels more motivated.


I realise now what I'm looking for is a cutter in the British sense of the word. This is the most demanding position in a tailoring organisation. I have no use for a sales guy. In fact, I abhor the very idea of one in a tailoring shop.


I could not, of course, communicate this to him. Too many words. I mumbled something and went on to talking about something else.

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Not every cutter is good at customer interfacing. The latter does need some technical skills which may include helping the customer determine the fabric choice, sketching an overall design, picking out previous drafts (if pattern was already made), pinning excess fabric. Right now you are already the cutter. What you are trying to do now is 'progressing' to the next phase of business: being the proprietor of the business and leaving the manual labour to others i.e. by hiring a cutter. 

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You've heard me talking about Coatmaker A (whom I've long since fired), Coatmaker B (currently my most-used coatmaker), and Coatmaker D. Then there is a factory I use for the fused jackets. The reason no mention is made of a Coatmaker C is because the guy decided not to work with me after all. On the day I was supposed to meet with him to start on our first jacket together, I found he had blocked my number. I could not reach him. This was maybe in February.


He just called me. He said he did not want to work with me because of the complexity of my jackets. He was scared, he said. I told him we can always do a soft start. He said most tailoring shops are doing badly now, and that the jacket jobs he gets have dwindled. I said let me draft him a jacket and we start with a baste and go from there. He seemed eager.


So there will likely be a Coatmaker C after all.

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"Here’s the simplest, most jargon-free, definition of marketing you’re ever likely to come across:


"If the circus is coming to town and you paint a sign saying ‘Circus Coming to the Showground Saturday’, that’s advertising.


"If you put the sign on the back of an elephant and walk it into town, that’s promotion.


"If the elephant walks through the mayor’s flower bed and the local newspaper writes a story about it, that’s publicity.


"And if you get the mayor to laugh about it, that’s public relations.


"If the town’s citizens go to the circus, you show them the many entertainment booths, explain how much fun they’ll have spending money at the booths, answer their questions and ultimately, they spend a lot at the circus, that’s sales.


"And if you planned the whole thing, that’s marketing."




Spent most of today listening to the Audible version of this book. It runs for 6 hours.


What a godsend. Ostensibly about marketing, but what it really does is help a sole proprietor pivot from running the business himself to having it run independently of him. This is a jump many do not make. This book provides the solutions to make the jump possible, though obviously the solutions need to be implemented.


I don't really read marketing books because most were written by warm bodies. Allan Dib is not just a warm body. A brilliant book that has already changed my way of looking at the world of commerce.

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I learn today that two German tailoring textbooks have been shipped to me. I am very keen on these two. From the table of contents of one of them, I see that German tailor Werner Losberg of Heidenreich lays out his jacket drafting system "for various figures". I first heard of Losberg several years ago and was very impressed by his fit pics. He is one of those rare creatures who makes both jacket and trousers himself, entirely. He cuts, he sews and he presses---all by himself.



That's Losberg himself. He also explains his procedure for the first and second fittings. Can't wait.


Further on the table of contents, I see that John Coggins of Savile Row has a contribution titled "The Savile Row Trousers". Coggins is much publicised by the German menswear writer Bernhard Roetzel, who is an enthusiastic customer of his. Here's Roetzel with Coggins:



I also look forward to the contribution by Max Dietl of Munich. Unlike Losberg, Dietl is in the second or third generation and seems to make money selling Brioni and Kiton. But it still engages 25 sewing tailors and three cutters.

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I get interesting calls almost daily nowadays. Pfizer just called about have shirts made for 12 people as a doorgift to a team-building exercise. For some reason I declined. I think that was a mistake.


The call I'm really waiting for? Maybe something like this:


Blah: Hi, I'm Blah, CEO of a telco. We're having a photoshoot for the next annual report, and we're thinking of outfitting every board member with a new suit for that. Can you help?

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I don't seem to be making much progress on the only sales target that JT has ever had: to sell hundreds of fused wedding suits this year. I did sell a number of wedding suits this month but they are fully canvassed. In fact, this month, all the suits I sold were fully canvassed. This is a bit problematic because I have limited capacity for the fully canvassed jackets whereas I have bottomless capacity for fused jackets.


To stimulate demand for fused wedding suits, I'm planning a page on my site and as a post in facebook about the various approaches I've seen customers take towards their wedding attire. To illustrate the outcome of these approaches, I was thinking of asking customers if I can use the wedding pics they posted on their fb/instagram. I have refrained from posting these even on this forum for reasons of discretion. But damned it, I need to sell hundreds of fused wedding suits since telco CEOs have gone casual now and that call will not be forthcoming.


Some of the pics customers have posted are great. I can't think of better marketing collaterals. Let me post just one here to show you what I mean.


Sultan in VBC Super 140's with cashmere.


Imagine a page dedicated to groom's attire strategies illustrated with seven or eight such pictures. Wow. But how do I go asking for permission to use the pictures?


"Eh, can I use this pic you posted on fb on my website?"


I'm really not sure if such a question is even socially appropriate.

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I think I'll call them inverse composite hybrid jackets. A new category altogehter. No price competition.


Yesterday, I dropped by a wholesale paper distributor to find a replacement for the chicken skin paper that I use for the paper patterns. The idea is to get something more satisfying to draw on and which will last longer. This distributor in Brickfields seems to have been in business for a long time.



Now I know what buckram paper is



I went for the largest size paper they have---A1 only unfortunately---in a cream colour. The minimum quantity is 500 pieces. Just 250 pieces weighed close to 10kg. Almost killed myself transporting it from the car to the shop. Here's the first jacket pattern drafted on this cream 100g/sq.m paper.


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Three different baste work packages for one suit. The jacket portion goes to Coatmaker D, the vest to Coatmaker B, and trousers to Trousermaker A. There is no paper pattern at this stage for the vest because I'm delegating that to the coatmaker.


I really like the cream paper. Worth the trouble sourcing it.

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Two (probably dumb) questions:


1) Do you send the paper patterns to the coatmaker, after which he cuts the fabric? Or do the paper patterns not reach said coatmaker at all, since the fabric has already been cut?


2) In the paper pattern for the sleeve (the top one, specifically), there's a flare /kink (for lack of a better name). What's it for?


BTW, the call you'd want should come from something like PEMUDAH : a bunch of old, rich fellas who would never go the casual route.

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Yes, the coatmaker receives the paper patterns because he cuts the cloth. The kink is the where the top sleeve folds over to meet the undersleeve. The kink is the "front edge" of the sleeve.


You must be joking about Pemudah. What if sometime in the future it was found to have received millions in stolen money. There would be a clawback like what happened to Di Caprio and Kerr. My name would also appear in sarawakreport alongside Jakel which allegedly received RM44 million and alongside the clinic which sold anti-aging potions. Can't even show my face anymore. I would be tarred & feathered when in 1U having dinner.

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Coatmaker D makes the nicest buttonholes of anyone I have worked with. Natively, i.e. without any instruction from me. He also has the best workmanship overall. I now tend to let him make the higher priced jackets.

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Maybe I'm a little late to the party, but I'll add my 2 cents on the topic of selling fused suits from a (relatively) young guy's perspective.


Quick background - 27 year old banker with a Singaporean bank in Malaysia, I would use suits for the occasional work event (maybe 3-4 times a year) and socially for weddings mostly.


I'm the owner right now of 3 custom/bespoke suits: Suit A the typical Malaysian starter sack suit in black (2007- RM 1,200 - Valentino pure wool), Suit B a Thai 3 piece light grey suit (2002 - THB 12500 - Valentini pure wool) and Suit C a JT fused navy blue number (2016 - RM 2,200 - VBC Super 100's).


Now, clearly the suits were made at different times, when I had varying fashion sensibilities and expectations of quality, and also a rather different perspective of affordability. Back then, affordable meant price. Now, I'm more willing to actually pay for quality items.


From a usage perspective, I definitely do not need 3 suits. The thinking when I made the first one was that it was something I could use for formal occasions abroad as I completed my degree, to conform to the dress codes overseas. The 2nd, I thought was an affordable upgrade, for something a little different from the norm. The 3rd, something I could see myself using for various occasions, and easy to mix and match. 


I'm pleased to say, from both a tailoring experience and a final product perspective, JT's suit is evidently the best. However, from what I've seen here in Malaysia, the fact that you are wearing a suit is in itself a very formal, outstanding occurrence. Nobody gives a damn in terms of the quality of the suit. Of course you have the obviously bad outliers, like 4 button jackets and tacky fashion items, but the average off the rack suit, fitting reasonably well, will already outshine the vast majority of the suits out there.


The next step up then, would be a good bespoke suit. The definition of good, for most, has nothing to do with the material. Wool is perceived as expensive and hot, so most would be content with some form of mixed or polyester material. "Good", then, would be assessed through the cut, and that means, form fitting, and in the not-so-distant past, skinny like a second skin. Hardly a classic look, yet the tailoring scene here has managed to adapt their sack cutting into skintight scuba suits for the Korean wave crowd.


From a cost per use POV, bespoke has to compete with your off the rack items then. And thus many local tailors now have a starter item around the RM 800-1,000 mark for something polyester. And therein lies the rub. There is barely any demand for suits as it is not a part of our local dress culture. Therefore most people would maybe do a one off fused multipurpose suit, and since it is a rarely used item, would only be willing to fork out the bare minimum.


The most common opinion I have come across is : 1 suit for starters, and 1 wedding suit for the rest of your life. 99% of suit owners have no idea what a full canvas is.


(Why didn't I get a full canvas JT suit? Because I don't have a need for it! Since getting the suit I must have worn it 4 times at most. Hardly justifiable. I am a banker after all)


Sadly, that also means the return customer factor is really relatively quite low. And hence my opinion that JT is really operating in a rather perfect niche, catering for the people with higher expectations, income and knowledge. For him to expand the fused suit business, into a market where price is the core issue, in my view, is not the best move in this market when his clear competitive advantage is in his fitting ability, his technical knowledge, and the adherence to a classical tailoring perspective compared to the ever changing fashion forward items, all of which would appeal not to the masses, but to a more mature, worldly niche audience.


(of course, just cutting your profit margins would do it. the suits would fly off the shelves)

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Edited a pattern last night and took a pic. The crossed out lines are those from the initial draft; the new lines are those after the findings from the first baste fitting.


You see a change in shoulder slope (more square, i.e. less sloping), a straightening of the neckpoint (i.e. closer to the neck), a reduction of width primarily in the front edge but also a little in the underarm seam, narrower shoulders and chest, and finally a shortening of the hem. Every pattern piece was changed not just the forepart shown here. After this, the coatmaker receives the baste and this set of revised patterns and makes the baste anew. Then another fitting takes place.


This is for a two-piece in H&S Mille Miglia Super 140's.

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