While for many businesses expansion is key (franchising out a brand or adding multiple locations) Bespoke tailors Knights and Lords have taken a different strategy in order to stay a cut above the rest. “As per the tradition of the bespoke craft, the hands that measure are the hands that have to cut the suit, and supervise the crafting from start to finish,” Asheesh Ishwar, Bespoke Tailor and Partner, said. Bespoke tailoring is a specialised craft, requiring master tailors to measure, cut and consult with a client from the outset. From understanding a client’s personality to picking fabric, and measuring and cutting pattern pieces precisely. This is why they have kept their specific skillset to a single location: physical expansion would mean a demise in quality.
Asheesh and his brother Pawan set up Knights and Lords in 2010, after tough training (13 years between them) in London’s tailoring home, Savile Row. They then decided to bring their expertise to the Middle East, setting up what is perhaps the region’s only tailoring house run by Savile Row-trained experts.
Since the tailoring house was established in Dubai the Ishwars have built a phenomenal customer retention rate, which stands at a huge 98% - an enviable figure for any company. So how have they built this base? At first, their market didn’t understand bespoke tailoring, so they positioned themselves as experts in the media space. “[We] spread the word of bespoke in a place that is nascent in the knowledge of the craft,” Pawal said. “It’s only been close to one and a half to two years that people have developed an understanding of what the process is, and what the benefits are,” Pawan said. “Six years back when we entered Dubai… people were not aware of the bespoke craft, they didn’t really know the difference between a handcrafted suit and a made-to-measure suit,” he added.
A Specialised Service
Spreading this knowledge and awareness of bespoke tailoring helped generate the custom they enjoy today – approximately 45 commissions a month. They are also members of the Savile Row Bespoke Association (SRBA), one of the requirements of which is to spread the word of bespoke.
What makes bespoke tailoring so reputable, is the time and attention paid to each individual client. Most tailors offer three options: off-the-peg suits (readymade stock generally kept on show in-house); made-to-measure suits (a client’s measurements are taken and then a tailor uses a generic pattern to cut and sew the suit); and bespoke (the tailor measures, cuts and crafts the suit himself). “What happens when you craft the suit of a gentleman, the image of that person needs to be fresh in the cutter’s mind,” Pawan said of the difference between bespoke and made-to-measure tailoring. “Now if the person who’s cutting the suit has never seen the person [the client], then a lot of things are lost in translation, because you’re just dealing with a few numbers you don’t really know this person, his body type, his mannerisms, and things like this,” he continued.
Attention to detail is what sets bespoke apart. After four fittings sometimes stretching up to three hours at a time, the tailor then needs between four to six weeks to finish each piece.
This one-to-one service and attention to detail has attracted businessmen, diplomats and even celebrities to the tailoring house. “Bespoke tailoring to us is a profession. It’s not like a Doctor running a hospital,” Asheesh, who started off as a trouser undercutter (doing alterations) said. “The problem here is people are time-poor,” he continued, “They say ‘I need it yesterday’”.
When the specialist tailors first set up, they were on a mission to not only educate their new market, but also push clients from buying off-the-peg suits to bespoke. To do this, they had to price competitively. A Savile Row suit might set you back £2,500 to £3,500 (AED12,200 – AED17,000); while the Ishwar brothers cost their suits at AED4,500 to AED5,000. “If you’re not priced accordingly, you can’t see the shift from off the peg to bespoke,” Asheesh said. “To remain competitive at that price, you have to stock the fabrics… there is no other way,” he said. Because of the stock requirements, training and workspace required, Asheesh and Pawan estimate that they have needed to invest between AED2.5 to AED3 million.
This investment has paid off, however, and has set up the tailoring brothers for prospective expansion in the next five years, in the form of increased commissions. They also want to continue educating people about the benefits of bespoke tailoring.
The brothers come from a long line of tailors – four generations in fact – with their contemporaries working as tailors to the British Army during India’s colonial era. However, the suits that the brothers craft today are vastly different to those created by their families in years gone by. On Savile Row heavy materials (such as Tweed) are often used in suit making; but these dense, wool-rich fabrics are not suitable for the Middle Eastern climate.
“Traditionally, suits are 100% wool, but we had to adapt to the market over here and only stocking 100% wool would be unfeasible,” Asheesh said. “So we had to make a lot of decisions whereby we would keep the integrity of our craft and maintain the same criteria as the SRBA, and at the same time being a company that would remain afloat in the market of course,” he continued.
To stay afloat they have adapted their stock, and so offer linen and cotton wool blends to their customers. The wool used is ‘tropical wool’, which weighs under 300g, and so is lightweight enough for the Dubai climate. Their clients also favour material with a slight sheen or shine to it; something not found in the UK market in which they trained.
One of the main challenges that the Ishwar brothers found when setting up Knights and Lords, was actually running the business itself. “We have a background of being trained as tailors, practicing tailoring as a profession,” Pawan, who started off as a button hole maker, said. “Starting your own tailoring house has a business aspect to it, which we were strongly missing. We had to learn the ropes over time. So our key challenge was managing it as a business, managing the financials of it. Inflow, outflow, profit, things of that sort, were initially terms that made no sense to us. It’s something that we had to understand,” he said.
Despite initial challenges, the company broke even after two and a half years, thanks to their customer retention rate, which was largely generated through word of mouth: “Every client who commissioned a suit from us strongly recommended us and returned to us – within the same year,” Asheesh concluded.