The industry of menswear is one of the very few that comes to my mind which does not evolve according to the ideology, "the latest and greatest." Allow me to explain. In this fast-paced world, things change quite quickly, often for the better - or at least, that seems to be the common belief. However, the truth is that sometimes slow progress is what’s needed for an industry to survive. In the case of classic menswear, decades, even centuries of savoir-faire are at stake due to a shift in the economy and a newly established wave of companies doing things slightly differently from days of old.
Time is indeed the ultimate factor of change, and change itself is inevitable and necessary in a way. Aesthetically speaking, the classic menswear industry relies on old trends and the notion of classicism in order to project a charming, old-world appeal. However, what the end-customer often doesn’t see is an industry undergoing major changes. With a decrease in artisans and ateliers in many of the regions traditionally known for tailoring, companies and individuals alike are seeking alternative options.
In order to survive, many existing tailoring brands have outsourced their production to China, India, and other developing nations with a strong manufacturing sector. Suitsupply, one of the leading brands in the industry has set that trend, and they have also successfully implemented a made-to-measure program alongside their ready-to-wear selection - which they were originally known for. With that being said, their reputation and international reach quickly placed them near the top of the ladder when it comes to introductory-level custom suits.
Initially, this was one of the factors that caused the shift in the production of classic menswear goods. Interestingly enough, heritage brands such as Zegna have partially moved their production to the far east, and I am expecting other brands within the same range to do the same. Needless to say, many of the newly established labels are also producing in these developing regions for understandable reasons. In order to stay competitive, smaller players need to adapt their approach, and the best way to do so is by adding value throughout the process, which boils down to impeccable customer service.
From the perspective of someone in the made-to-measure industry, I can assure you that at the end of the day, great service leads to returning customers, which is the key to success in this limited market. It is also the only way to compete with the industry leaders and stay relevant. Although it saddens me (along with many others), to see some of the local workshops closing down, there are benefits as a result of this phenomenon.
First of all, by outsourcing the productions of classic menswear goods to these emerging markets, they will inevitably perfect their craft, and quality in production will increase. Secondly, it gives more people the chance to experience custom-made garments, as well as other consumer goods, at an entry level price-point. Nonetheless, this shift comes with its consequences. From the underpaid employees in some of these factories to the loss of the craftsmanship in world-renowned tailoring regions.
On a final note, I’d like to say that although the trend over the past few years has been based on economic factors, there seems to be a revival in true bespoke tailoring, known as grande-mesure among the sartorial community. A new generation of passionate individuals are taking over classic menswear, combining proven techniques with modern aesthetics, and the results are visually pleasing. Moreover, the market for such products is still relatively small, and so a small number of quality ateliers can supply the demand - until another revolution occurs.
I am hopeful that companies producing in developing nations will ultimately have a better quality product, and that the upcoming generations of tailors and other maitres are here to stay. The ideal scenario would be a classic menswear market that has something to offer to a wide variety of individuals - whether they’re experienced consumers or those wanting to begin their sartorial journey. It’s a fascinating market, and even though times change, it is imperative that we look upon the upcoming chapter from a positive perspective.
Claudiu Pascalau is the founder and author of StyleAttorney.com. He is also the co-founder of Maison Leporem, a Montreal-based Made-to-Measure service. Claudiu draws inspiration from classic menswear, and seeks to keep it timeless through his musings.