Online custom clothiers are getting in on the action.
Selling custom clothing online directly to consumers is shaking up the traditional custom clothing model. The competitive pricing (companies cut costs by having little or no overhead and making goods overseas) opens up the world of custom—seen by many as luxury—to consumers who might have never thought it was an option for them.
While the online custom clothing business is still fairly new (some companies have been around since as early as 2007), the business started gaining ground around 2009. It continues to grow as more companies are popping up with similar business models. “E-commerce in general is still a small part of the overall retail landscape, but it’s growing,” says Black Lapel’s Derek Tian. “Selling custom clothing online is an even smaller part of the industry average for all online retail. But the market is definitely moving toward omni-channel retailing.”
According to an April 2013 study conducted by eMarketer, a market research firm that focuses on digital marketing, media and commerce, “E-retail sales in the United States will grow at a compound annual growth rate of approximately 14 percent over the next four years. E-retail sales of apparel and accessories will reach $54.2 billion this year in the U.S., accounting for 20.9 percent of 2013 total web sales. Only computer and consumer electronics has greater sales and share at $56.8 billion and 21.9 percent. Apparel and accessories online sales will post the strongest compound annual growth rate, 17.2 percent, through 2017.” There’s major growth potential for selling apparel online as consumers become more comfortable shopping from computers, tablets and mobile devices.The online custom clothing customer ranges, but according to the experts the sweet spot tends to be young professionals. As Suitly’s Michael Kriszan explains, “Our biggest market is young professionals who want great-fitting custom clothing without the premium price tag.” Michael Macintyre of Indochino says customers in different demographics are buying for different reasons: the older customer for convenience and the younger audience for value.
Here’s how most online custom clothing companies work: They will mail customers a free tape measure and suggest they ask someone else to take their measurements (this takes about 10 to 15 minutes and there are around 10 measurements for a suit). Then customers fill out an online measurement form (which is saved and can be adjusted for future orders). Once that’s done they choose all the desired details (there are numerous options like style, fabric, buttons, collars, pockets, linings, etc.). The process is very detailed; a lot of companies upload videos and tutorials to help guide consumers. The customer reviews the order and finishes the sale the same as they would any other online transaction, and in a few weeks, custom product is sent to his home.
The greatest challenge for online custom companies is getting consumers comfortable with taking their measurements. Most men think of suits as an investment and may be apprehensive to buy something without trying it on. Online custom companies have a way to ease the customers’ fears. Many offer three-pronged fit guarantees: They will give a $75 alteration credit, so minor adjustments can be made at a local tailor shop. If that doesn’t work, the company offers to remake the suit, or if a customer is really dissatisfied, they can send the suit back for a full refund. The companies we talked to reported a range in complete return rates from as little as 0.5 percent to 10 percent.
There’s a lot of potential growth for selling custom clothing online. As Hil Davis of J. Hilburn says, “Menswear is trending all across the nation, not just in NYC and LA. Men are embracing the power of custom clothing and personalization and they’re willing to take chances. So there’s an opportunity to take share away from traditional retailers, and help guys wear custom-fit clothing and experience premium quality fabrics, without spending much more than they do [buying off the rack] at J. Crew, Brooks Brothers or Nordstrom.”
Some of the Players
* Launched in 2007 by Heikal Gani and Kyle Vucko
* Interesting fact: The company recently raised $13 million from Highland Capital. The investment helped launch the “traveling tailor” concept.
* What makes it different: “One of the challenges in our business is getting the guy measured up, so as a solution we launched traveling tailors. We travel to different cities and host pop-ups for 21 days. We’ve been to seven cities so far,” says Michael Macintyre, director of marketing, customer service and business analytics for Indochino. “We launched in Canada (in Vancouver and Calgary) and entered the U.S. market with a traveling roadshow that stopped in San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Washington D.C. and Boston. Guys can come and get measured and either order right there, or later from home.”
* Price points: Suits retail from $379 to $599 (all are half canvas). $599 price point uses Reda Italian fabric, which Indochino says is equivalent to Ralph Lauren Purple/Black labels or Hugo Boss. Shirting ranges from $79 to $159 depending on the fabric. $159 price point uses Thomas Mason fabrics.
* Turnaround time: One month
* Sourcing/Production: Wool is sourced from Australia and milled in either China or Italy. Garments are constructed in Shanghai.
* Launched in 2011 by Derek Tian and Warren Liao
* Interesting fact: Tian and Liao are former finance guys who wore a lot of suits to work but could never find great options from a price/quality standpoint. They couldn’t afford custom, so they created a model that offers quality custom product at competitive prices.
* What makes it different: Education. Black Lapel believes an essential part of selling custom suits online is educating the consumer. Commerce is complemented by content on its blog The Compass, a combination of lifestyle features, menswear facts and how-tos.
* Price points: $450 to $700 depending on fabric quality. $450 is entry-level super 110s and $700 line is usually super 150s. 100% cotton shirts retail from $99 to $109.
* Turnaround time: Between three and four weeks
* Sourcing/Production: Fabrics are sourced in Australia; production is in Shanghai.
* Launched in 2012 by Matthew Krizsan
* Interesting fact: Because of Kriszan’s slim stature, he always had a tough time finding well-fitting suits to wear while completing his MBA. So he developed a business plan for an affordable, quality-driven online business of custom tailored suits and shirts for men.
* What makes it different: All suits are made by tailors in Bangkok, Thailand. “They have gone to school to train in the art of classic suit tailoring and many things are still done by hand,” says Krizsan. “The history of suit making there has been around since the Vietnam War and has been growing steadily ever since. It may cost more for us to ship from Thailand to North America, but the quality speaks for itself.”
* Price points: Two-piece suits are $389.99
* Turnaround time: Less than three weeks
* Best sellers: “Our gray skarkskin suit is popular. It can look sleek with slim notch lapels or powerful with wide peak lapels. Sharkskin has definitely made a comeback.”
* Launched in 2007 by Hil Davis
* Sales volume: 2012 annual revenue was $34 million, double the previous year, and is expected to double again for 2013.
* Interesting fact: “Nearly 40 percent of our shirts are ordered with French cuffs,” reveals Davis. “You’ll never see 40 percent of shirts in a department store with French cuffs.”
* What makes it different: J. Hilburn is not strictly online. “Our fundamental belief from day one was that it is impossible to scale custom-fit clothing as a pure-play e-commerce brand. So we developed an innovative direct sales model that works in conjunction with our digital experience. Currently, we have a network of nearly 3,000 style advisors around the country. Before a new client purchases a custom-fit shirt, suit or trousers, he first meets with a style advisor who takes his measurements and helps him get into the right fit for him. The style advisor also helps him navigate the customization options and shows him how to wear everything together. This model ensures we have a physical presence to get the measurements and fit right. Once we have a client’s measurements, he can continue to purchase through his style advisor, or directly online. Most of our clients currently re-order directly through their style advisors because they value the relationship and style guidance. We are currently working on a highly personalized and curated digital experience so the client can get the same style advice online.” J. Hilburn is a full lifestyle collection offering custom shirting, suiting, formalwear and sportcoats, denim, chinos, sweaters, polos and T-shirts. It also has an accessories line featuring neckwear, pocket squares, belts, cufflinks and luggage.
* Price points: Custom shirting starts at $99; full suiting starts at $695. A full tuxedo runs just shy of $900.
* Turnaround time: About two to three weeks for custom shirting and four to six weeks for suiting.
* Best sellers: “Our custom tailored clothing is approximately 80 percent of revenue, and ready-to-wear products (sweaters, polos, T-shirts, accessories) comprise the remaining 20 percent. In shirting, the top-selling fabrics are solid blues and whites, which are the staples for most guys. However, over the past 18 months, we’ve seen more guys ordering patterns and colors. Sport shirts are popular, especially in aviator and western styles, which we can make custom-fit. We’re also selling a lot of sportcoats, better than the average ratio of sportcoats to suits that most retailers see. Our style advisors do a great job of showing their clients how a sportcoat can dress up any look (casual, social or business), and when a guy sees how many different ways he can wear the sportcoat, he’s willing to make the investment.”
* Sourcing/Production: Fabrics all sourced from Italy and made between Italy and Portugal.