CUSTOMIZATION: MEASURING UP TO THE CHALLENGES

 

Traditional Tailoring

 

Some things in life are worth waiting for; like your dream home, or a business you are trying to establish; it could even be much smaller things like a cool gadgetthatyou have been saving up for, or even an appreciation from a person whom you consider your mentor. How about a perfectly tailored suit? Is it more valuable than a readymade piece which has comparable specifications? What makes a custom tailored suit different from one that can be picked off the shelves? Well, the obvious dffference is always there- like the measurements which are made specifically as per your bodyrequirements in the case of custom tailoring, in addition to the choice of buttons, linings and such details we call trims. These details which might have been just acceptable in the case of a readymade suit, will be your preference above many other choices you have.

 

We all had our favorite tailors whom we relied on for our sartorial needs, let us leave out the millennials for a while here, for they are not from the pre-readymade era and might find the concept of neighbourhood tailor a bit too alien. Our tailors used to be the world of authority on matters concerning trends, fabrics and what might suit us. They come with years of experience which customers continue to patronize them for, from one generation to the next. They do not use modern machinery and give a hand-crafted feel to the product which makes their work special, with many of them becoming brands in their own right. The advent of readymade garments indeed raised the bar in terms of giving a factory finish to the products. However, they are all assembly line products; each SKU that comes from a factory, will be available in standard size sets, like 39,40,42, 44 and production quantities will go into very high numbers in size ratios that work for the brand. These products are not uniquely made for you.Therefore, while custom tailoring scores in personalization and craftsmanship, readymade apparel is supposed to do better in finish and precison.

 

Relevance of Tailoring

Personalized suit-making nowadays has become a niche work, life has become fast-paced and instant gratification is the need of the hour. We hear about celebrities having personal tailors or even getting their suits crafted by Saville Row experts. While at the top end of the market where there is demand from users who need distinctiveness and leave a personal stamp on everything, the usage of custom tailoring has become restrictive while we look at the mass market price points. The consumption pattern largely revolves around special occasions that are planned well in advance, like a wedding in the family. Otherwise custom tailored garments are used when the consumer has difficulty in finding right fits in standard sized branded products;  markets have clearly swayed the way of readymades.

 

When times change, category trends also change, só do the preferences of customers. Therefore, for businesses to survive, they also need to change in line with the trends that we see around us. There are two major trends that become relevant here. First, is the matter of the time involved, with markets becoming more consumeristic the willingness to wait is reducing. Customers need the best products, right now! This works against the idea of custom tailoring; when weighed against the prospect of waiting for a week, the option of an acceptable compromise in the detailing of the garment wins hands down, to a large section of the market. The second change we are speaking about should intuitively be in favour of custom tailoring, because consumers these days want things their own way. We see this reflection even in mobile tariff plans. However, numbers indicate that readymades are gaining in India at the expense of custom tailoring. Therefore, all things considered, the negatives of custom tailoring are weighing heavily against it.

 

Bespoke vs Made to Measure

 

While we are on this subject, let me take the opportunity to draw small, yet important differences between the types of custom tailoring. One word that is frequently used in this context is ‘bespoke’. It means a garment that has ‘been spoken for’ – this indicates a suit that has been made from scratch by a tailor for one particular person only. The pattern is drafted directly on the person and requires multiple fittings. A bespoke suit is indeed a work of art and a prized possession for the owner and uses the most traditional way of making suits- something made popular by Saville Row craftsmen. Another term that is erroneously used synonymously with bespoke is ‘Made to Measure’. This process uses garments in pre-set patterns and sizes which are worn by the customer and then scaled up or down for different measurements. This process engages machines and lends better to mass production and scaling up by businesses. For like to like fabrics, bespoke suits are much more expensive and are mostly hand sewn with high quality construction; on the contrary Made to Measure uses automated cutting and is somewhere in between a bespoke and an off the rack suit. ‘Custom Made’ is a term used relatively loosely and can normally refer to anything that has been tweaked to fit you better.

 

If we imagine a continuum from art to science, we can imagine bespoke suit-making to be closer to the art side than where Made to Measure (MTM) is. While the former exudes the age old charm of precision tailoring where the element of human factor is celebrated, the latter, on the contrary, reduces this aspect. While bespoke suits are about care and craft, MTM suits are about precision and finish. Personalized tailoring of the kinds mastered by the experts at Saville Row are a lot about rare skills of specific people which get passed on from one person to the  other; this commands a lot of premium because of the high levels of skills involved that are not easy to find. On the other hand, MTM comes across as a more scalable proposition because it is about machinery and processes. Hence we find established brands taking the MTM route to provide high levels of personalization, as against bespoke tailoring.

 

Challenges in the Market

 

If we look at the  context of the Indian market, we are still to find brands achieving any significant scale in MTM business. Apparel brands that are into pure play readymade business may not get easily drawn to that space because, as we said earlier, the market is swinging towards ready to wear products. So it is the brands with a lineage in tailoring that will be interested in MTM because, for them this will be a good opportunity to strengthen their tailoring portfolio, thereby countering the onslaught of readymades. As a result, the MTM scene does not witness a clutter of competing brands in the market. One reason we are still to see brands scaling up significantly in this space in India is of course, the pricing. MTM products are priced higher than their readymade counterparts from the same brand; this detrimentally affects the traction in the market in a value- conscious country like ours. To add to this, the waiting time is also high, which restricts MTM to the space of special occasions.

 

Awareness of the unique nature of MTM is also low in India; a large number of customers do not quite know clearly what distinguishes it from traditional custom tailoring, which enjoys lot more physical presence in high streets. The term Made to Measure, in its most fundemental level, refers to something that is customized as against something that is standardized. I have seen many customers not noticing the differences between MTM and traditional custom tailoring and referring to both the services interchangeably.

 

Speed of delivery and price-value equation being two key barriers to a significant scaling up of MTM business, it will be crucial to address both these issues. Logically speaking, a service of higher quality can come at a higher price if the price differential is within reasonable limits. So the uniqueness of MTM needs to be communicated to customers. It needs to come across as a superior offering which justifies the slightly higher price points. The current lead time is a deterrent for continued business from customers for everyday wear. How about giving your measurements at a mall store, watching a movie and then collecting your shirt before leaving the mall? This, for the moment, comes across as inconceivable for us, but I hope I have made my point. A perfectly tailored garment, in factory finish, getting delivered in two working days will be a significant way forward. This calls for major ramp up of operations with multiple MTM factories in different cities.

 

MTM is a service and we need to view it that way. Service standards in any category are improving every day with consumers getting more and more demanding. Online shopping for apparel is on the rise. Is there a scope for custom tailoring in the online space? Looks like there are inherent challenges here; it is possible to have your measurements taken yourself and have them shared online. There can be videos and other tutorial mechanisms to facilitate this; it is possible and many businesses have this model as well, but it is still a long way from being a process that is potentially game changing. Technology can be used to schedule stylist appointments; in fact if a customer’s measurements are already captured in the system, it is possible for him to place a repeat order against the same measurements by just indicating the choice of fabrics and trims.

 

On a wider perspective, we are in the era of customization and personalized services. MTM has the potential to replace regular custom tailoring and significant investments are required in creating infrastructure for the same, for a smarter, well dressed India.