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Lessons from Fast Growing Made-to-Measure and Bespoke Suit Brands

MARCH 15, 2022

Bespoke suit brands, made-to-measure brands, custom clothiers, custom retailers and direct sellers share one thing in common:  they aim to provide well tailored garments that are fitted and styled to “perfection.


Beyond that common thread (no pun intended), … the fastest growing MTM and bespoke brands have very different priorities than and all the others.


In my study of 100 mtm/bespoke brands in 10 countries over the last 2 1/2 years these differences have become more and more apparent.


In this article I will outline four lessons I think brands can learn from these fast growing brands.


Lesson 1. Bespoke suit brands know their numbers and their target market


They start with a growth mindset and focus on metrics that will lead them to the targeted results.


Do you know your CAC, COGS, LTV or ARPU?


Do you have an investor deck?


Even if you don’t plan to raise capital, creating an investor deck is one way for you to clearly outline your target market, the problem you are solving, growth plans, key milestones, and so on.


Blank Label, though severely impacted by the Pandemic, experienced rapid growth in about 6 years.


In 2013 they targeted the US men’s luxury market to solve a problem they identified: men spend thousands of dollars per year on clothing without a personalized experience.


Blank Label set out to use an omnichannel approach to personalize the customer experience at scale with three services:

  • Online
  • In Store
  • Concierge Services


That mindset led them to add five locations along with their online sales by 2019.


The global apparel market is estimated to be $1.5 trillion USD as of 2021 according to Statista.


Whether you are a bespoke suit brand, MTM brand, custom clothier, retailer or direct seller it is critical to know your financials and target market.



Lesson 2. They focus on getting very big, very fast


Fast growing brands are not trying to reach seven figures.


They want to dominate.


They sell in multiple markets and across multiple channels.


They want to build billion dollar businesses.


If they miss the billion dollar valuation, their “failure” point can be well into the eight figures.


Proper Cloth bootstrapped its way to over $30mill in sales per year in about 10 years.


In the last 5 years, Proper Cloth tripled sales.


They have now added new strategies to drive growth over the next 5 years that could see them triple sales again and hit $100 million in annual sales.


That’s a far way (in a short time) from struggling to make $500K per year in 2011.


Bespoke/MTM brands such as Knot Standard, Alton Lane, J.Hilburn, Lanieri and others are focused on becoming big brands.


They are not trying to be the best in Atlanta, or crush it in NY and do some trunk shows in other cities. That’s very limiting.


They think much bigger, and lay out a plan to achieve that (which may include trunk shows, but that would be only a part of it).


While Brioni is a little out of scope for this discussion, it is worth noting that Brioni uses 8 different ways to sell to ensure they never miss a sale. Not one, two or three. You can read more about Brioni’s strategies here.


One key lesson here is don’t put a limit on your business. There is a huge apparel market out there with a whole host of problems to solve. Check out this breakdown of ten strategies Bespoke/MTM brands are using now to exponentially grow sales.



Lesson 3. They dominate a niche then expand


They dominate and lock-in on a niche both in terms of a go-to-market strategy as well as a product strategy.


Get good at something, prove it works then expand.


All fast growing brands analyzed had a very narrow focus initially – from focusing on only pants, or only shirts, to selling on one channel. 


Once they achieved traction in that niche they expanded.


Brands like Proper Cloth are even now experimenting with Home Try-on service.


They focus on scalable sales channels like online, outside sales teams, or quickly building out new locations.


Here are four online sales models used by MTM/bespoke brands online. Checkout this article for a detailed breakdown of each of these.


1. Full self-service model – customers select, customize and purchase products online. This is the most popular sales model in our study and is offered by brands like Articles of Style, Benson & Clegg, Black Lapel and CKCNY.

2. Assisted model – Brands like J.Hilburn allow customers to select products online, then find a stylist to complete the order.

3. Hybrid self-service/assisted model – customers choose products and pay online, then book an in-person or a virtual appointment to complete the order.

4. Existing Customers OnlyW.W. Chan offers custom suits and shirts online only for returning customers with a pattern on file. * W.W. Chan recently launched an MTO product online for new and returning customers.



Lesson 4. They work from a different playbook


The fastest growing MTM/bespoke brands in our study represent less than 12% of the 100 we have analyzed over the last 2 years.


Fast growing MTM and bespoke brands are focused on future growth, and constantly listen to their customers and analyze the market to develop strategies.


emoji® – The Official Brand | Rocket - U+1F680   They are not concerned about how things have been done before.


emoji® – The Official Brand | Rocket - U+1F680   They automate everything possible – from front-end sales processes to back-end order fulfillment.


emoji® – The Official Brand | Rocket - U+1F680   They have experienced double and triple digit growth in short time frames with sales well over $20, $30 and even over $50 million in some cases.


emoji® – The Official Brand | Rocket - U+1F680   For example J.Hiburn doubled sales to $35 million in 2012 alone, and Proper Cloth grew from $500K in 2011 to $10 million in 2016, then more than tripled sales by 2021.


Most other MTM/bespoke brands in our study either generate annual sales below $1million or hover in the low-mid seven figures with marginal growth. 


Here are some examples how fast growing bespoke/MTM brands work from a different playbook:


  1. Pricing Strategy: They are not trying to be the most expensive. They set prices to capture larger and larger audiences to generate growth. This may mean creating separate product lines (bespoke vs mtm vs mto lines) across channels. They listen to their target market and set prices to maximize sales within each targeted group. For example some Savile Row brands who sell bespoke suits starting well over $3,000 also offer online MTO or MTM suits for $800. They know that to scale they must capture a broader audience over multiple channels.
  2.  Product Strategy: They niche down here and get good at selling a few skus, then expand and expand, and expand as they drive to dominate. Proper Cloth now sells over 40,000 products (not different skus) per month! They started just selling shirts and getting great at that.
  3. Content Strategy: They constantly seek attention and when they get someone’s attention they follow up, follow up, follow up to make sure they don’t loose that attention. Plus maximize their chance to convert that prospect to a sale. For example the fast growing brands know that money is in the follow upthey send up to 2 emails per week depending on the season. Of the other brands almost 60% do not send ANY email over 12 months of our recent study! If you don’t ask for a sale you will never get any.
  4. Technology Strategy: They make technology an integral part of their business strategy.  They use tech to automate everything possible both in front- and back-office. J.Hilburn uses technology to feed smart recommendations and flags potential measurement errors while their sales people are selling. Targeted automated e-mail marketing and e-commerce can take the salespeople out of the reorder process entirely (while still paying them commissions). Alton Lane applied digital strategy across their sales, marketing, order management and financial operations.





Small MTM/bespoke brands remain small because they tend to think small, and spend most time on day-to-day operations. They are working hard in their business, not on it and thus creating very little business value.


In many cases the small MTM/bespoke owner is THE BUSINESS. Without him/her there is really nothing as there are limited systems, no transparent processes, no delegation of key activities, and no way to generate predictable cash flow if that person is removed from the equation.


Fast growing brands on the other hand streamline day-to-day operations, which allows them to focus on future growth. They then set goals and strategies that drive that growth.


They prioritize technology, processes and people that allow them to personalize the custom experience at scale with an automated approach that produces predictable cash flows and thus increase greatly the business value.


Fast growing brands also know that a bigger brand means a more valuable brand as it also can improve margins even more by optimizing supply chain economics. For example they can significantly reduce costs by buying large batches of fabrics in same dye lot.


Whatever stage of growth your business is currently in, getting clear on your destination (e.g. as measured by revenue), your target market, the vehicle(s) such as sales channels & strategies, as well as the financials roadmap to get there are key to creating a valuable bespoke/MTM business.



Good luck!



What other strategies would you add to my list, or would you like to know about? … Let me know in the comments

Thanks for reading The Custom Times – blog articles about the business and economics of custom apparel.

I believe that better market insight will help you grow your business faster and more profitably.

Our articles include in-depth, well-researched information from the global custom apparel industry, along with useful tools that you can apply to your own business.

  • Learn how fellow MTM and bespoke brands are executing strategies such as email, e-commerce, and content across sales funnels to drive business growth.
  • Get original market data and statistics based on our research of hundreds of MTM brands globally.


If you want to truly grow your business rather than feeling stuck juggling orders between multiple systems, then these articles are for you.


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Thank you,

Tyrone Whittle, founder, The Custom Times


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