These men have changed the way you buy suits

The two men from the Netherlands tell EDGAR how they did it.

Robert Chilton June 22, 2017

In 2011 The Wall Street Journal carried out a blind test on a range of suits and declared a dead heat between a $600 suit from Suitsupply, a little-known Dutch company that launched in 2000, and a $3,600 suit from Giorgio Armani. 

“We hadn’t even opened a store yet,” laughs vice president Nish de Gruiter, the fashion brains behind the business. “The second that story came out our website crashed with the demand. Two weeks later we opened our first store in New York and there was a line of people out the door.” Five years on and Suitsupply has 26 stores in the United States and a further 40 or so around the world, including their latest in Dubai. They probably owe that WSJ reporter a drink.

Walking into Suitsupply is not like walking into a tailor. “We wanted to disrupt the system because we felt tailors were stuck in their ways,” continues de Gruiter. “Our stores are organic, bright and fun, they have an energy. Clothes shouldn’t be taken too seriously.”

However, de Gruiter, who went to fashion school in Amsterdam and worked for Brunello Cucinelli, is quick to point out that “we are all about tailoring.” In fact, there is a tailor’s work bench at the front of the store and 70 per cent of alterations can be done while you wait. Trouser hems, for example take 30 minutes and cost AED 30 while longer fixes require three days. Suitsupply carry shoes, shirts, trousers and accessories but jackets and suits are their core business.

A colour coded cross is stitched into the right cuff of every suit jacket to denote the price. Blue is AED 1,469; purple means AED 1,839, and top of the range – the suit that ranked alongside Armani in the WSJ test – is red at AED 2,349. Suits are designed in Amsterdam, and made in Portugal and Asia with fabric from mills in the Biella region of Italy.

So, here’s the question you’re probably thinking: how can Suitsupply produce this quality at these prices? In other words, what’s the catch?

“We hear that question every day,” smiles CEO Fokke de Jong who looks like a Dutch Christopher Walken. “People don’t believe it. Blind tests in The Wall Street Journal helped to get our message across of course, but now it’s getting easier. People see we have success worldwide and there must be a reason for that.”

He says the likes of Zara and H&M led the way. “They revolutionised the middle and low segment of the market. Twenty years ago when Zara sold a suit for 50 bucks people were amazed, but now they think that’s normal.

“I noticed the fashion industry was organised in a very old fashioned and inefficient way. There were so many steps between the factory and the consumer. I saw a huge opportunity for this industry to get a little disrupted.

“The thing that’s changed is the distribution. The distance between making the product and getting it to you is not that large now. That makes a huge difference – it’s a different business model.”

Before going on the shop floor staff are trained in ‘suit school’ in Amsterdam, New York or Hong Kong for six weeks where de Gruiter, 33, says they “learn the A to Z of tailoring.” 

De Jong, 41, adds, “We wanted to bring back the old ways of making a garment. These techniques disappeared because they’re difficult, but our staff know them. There are a thousand tailoring details and they’re not here to tell a nice story, they’re here to make a suit look nice.”