Clothes that you won’t want to take off anymore
BY NADINE PELZER
(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 1 2018)
Uncompromising quality combined with craftsmanship and a sure sense for trends. This is Suitsupply. Because in a world where off-the-rack suits have taken over men's wardrobes worldwide, Suitsupply introduces a new approach, creating a completely new market for men’s fashion. With great attention to detail and on-site tailoring while you wait, everyone leaves the store with the perfect fit. We talked to founder and CEO Fokke de Jong about the concept and future plans.
Mr de Jong, how do you feel when you wear the right suit? What influence does good clothing have?
A suit is your calling card. In many cases, it is the first impression you make on someone you’ve never met. A well-tailored suit not only radiates taste and style, but the right suit can also make you feel confident. I see it as an extension of my personality.
In your opinion, what characteristics does a suit need to have in order to be perfect?
I would say a great suit is made from natural fabrics, like wool or cotton. Details such as hand-stitched finishing, and accents like functioning buttonholes and a well-crafted butterfly lining are also markers of a good quality suit. One of the biggest indicators aside from using fine, 100 per cent pure Italian wool from the famed Biella region, is what’s on the inside. There is a special layer of interlining called the canvas, which is a cotton canvas fabric infused with horse and camel hair, which gives a jacket structure and the ability to take on the wearer’s natural shape. A floating canvas, which is specially stitched, as opposed to fused, and which uses glue and pressure to keep the canvas in place, is one of the best signs of a quality jacket. It gives the jacket its natural shape around the body without feeling trapped or stuck in it. A perfect suit, however, comes down to a perfect fit that’s only achievable with a canvas interior – you can have the world’s best fabrics and details, but it all gets lost if you don’t have the right fit.
Before you founded Suitsupply, you studied law. How did it all start and when did you know that you wanted to work in the clothing industry?
It all started in the year 2000 in Amsterdam, when I noticed that my university colleagues were looking, let’s say, sub-professional, and I saw an untapped market for well-fitting, high-quality suits at an attainable price. In the early days, I started hosting tailoring parties out of my dorm room to gauge interest and opportunity. As interest grew, I began selling suits out of the trunk of my car, and the rest is history.
Suitsupply is mixing up the men’s fashion market. How would you describe the brand to someone who has never heard of it?
We live by the manifesto, “Don’t just fit in, find your own perfect fit”. To that end, everything we do is from a fresh perspective that keeps the individual at the core. From the Italian fabrics to the European tailoring, our focus is on a quality product that fits impeccably. We’re bringing new energy and contemporary style to men’s tailoring, and it goes beyond the attire.
All of your employees attend the New York, Shanghai, and Dallas schools, where they are taught materials science. Why is that important to you?
Because we have found that investing in our product and people goes much further than investing in high-profile locations or costly marketing campaigns. Something we instill into our staff is that we’re not out to simply “make a sale”, we’re more interested in getting everybody into a perfect fit in a fast and efficient way.
What are the unique selling points of your brand?
Vertical integration. Having control and oversight of every aspect of our product – from design to production – removes the middleman. Moreover, being a destination retailer, we don’t need to spend exuberant amounts on high-visibility storefronts. A lot of our stores are unique spaces, like Shanghai mansions and Soho lofts, that have been converted to what has now become an easily-recognisable store design. This off-the-beaten-path strategy allows us to save on costs and bring high-end suiting to a wider market. Moreover, we have several tailoring solutions that our clients can take advantage of. For basic alterations, every store has an in-house tailor to make any needed changes within 30 minutes. We also offer a custom programme, where you come in and one of our specially trained experts will take your measurements and guide you through a range of tailoring options.
What is your formula for success?
I think we’ve been successful at proving that an emphasis on a quality product and customer service is what really sets us apart. Thanks to technology, we’re bringing the same personalised shopping experience across all channels, including our online store. At the same time, we see great value in traditional skills. In fact, we worked for years on introducing old-fashioned techniques and craftsmanship which were hardly ever used except for at the high-end level. Take our jackets, for example; we give them shape using classic Italian techniques, by weaving a thin layer of horsehair-reinforced canvas into specific parts of the suit. As you wear it, this support begins to conform to your body’s shape, thereby becoming your perfect fit. Moreover, we use only fine Italian fabrics, offer in-store tailoring, and train our staff to be experts through our in-house Suitschool program – all of this comes together to create a quality product that fits impeccably, and, thanks to our vertical integration, remains at attainable price points. This isn’t so new to fast fashion brands, but it’s a first in luxury.
Who is the typical Suitsupply customer?
We’re here for the guy who’s serious about style but likes to have fun with it too.
Which role does the German market play for you?
Germany has been on our wish list for a long time. Our online sales in the country have been growing rapidly over the last few years, so this was the logical next step for customers to get closer to the product services by giving them their own store. But on a less technical side, Germany is a global hub of fashion, the arts, business and culture, it’s everything we’re about as a brand, and a perfect fit.
Unlike most brands, you start your business online and then select locations for stores based on online sales numbers. What opportunities and challenges does this approach entail?
On the business end, a robust online presence offers a fantastic opportunity to forecast retail trends and get ahead of the game through seeing where our highest sales are coming from. This helps mitigate some of the risk that comes with blindly opening a brick-and-mortar store. The challenge that comes with this, however, is that it’s sometimes hard to keep up with the demand for locations; we have people all over the world asking us to open in their city, and while we would love to be there, it’s hard to go any faster than we already are – perhaps this isn’t so much of a challenge as it is a good problem to have.
The Suitsupply shops are located in more peripheral areas and away from the luxury streets. What is the idea behind it?
It all goes back to investing in the right things. We’re a destination retail location, and those who know us will go out of their way to find us. Rather than paying ridiculous rent to be on 5th Avenue or some major high-end shopping area, we prefer to focus on a quality luxury product and well-informed staff. Location doesn’t determine success, a product and services that speak for themselves do, at least in our case.
If you were to dress a person with your products, who would it be?
What is planned for the coming years?
There’s always a lot in the works. Besides a number of store openings planned in Sydney, Boston, Stockholm, and China, we’re excited to grow our women’s sister brand Suistudio. It brings all the modern style, high-end Italian fabrics and accessibility you’ve come to expect from Suitsupply to the women’s market.
FOKKE DE JONG
Since founding Suitsupply in 2000, De Jong has continued to take on a prominent role within the company. As the CEO, he determines the company’s strategy, global development, creates innovative marketing campaigns, and has led Suitsupply to a rapid e-commerce expansion. The manner in which De Jong leads Suitsupply is the quintessence of Dutch entrepreneurship – untraditional thinking, creative leadership, and a pioneering spirit.
Picture credit © Suitsupply