AOS Tailoring: Origin Story
October 12th, 2015
Firstly, I’d like to thank you, our readers, for all of your continued support and encouragement over the past five years. I also want to thank our new team for all of their hard work leading up to this launch. I’m very excited to say that the Articles of Style Tailor Shop is now open!
Here’s the story of how it came to be, and why I think it’s important for the menswear industry:
I started blogging because, for as long as I could remember, I wanted to be a well-dressed gentleman but I couldn’t find any resources of information about menswear that were relatable to my lifestyle. I was never a fashion-forward guy. I never really cared about the latest designer collections or the hoop-la of fashion. I loved basketball, girls, and wearing nice clothes. I was much more interested in how a man wore a garment, the psychology behind what it did for him, and how it affected everyone around else around him.
During the summer after my junior year at Columbia I found myself in a “Sales & Trading Internship” at a major Wall Street bank during the largest financial collapse in American history. That summer I learned that I was not cut out to be a banker. I spent sixteen-hour days observing the hustle and bustle of a Wall Street trading floor, but all I could notice was how the cut of the suit on the guy who was most senior actually made him look like he was more experienced and professional. From day one of my internship, I couldn’t stop thinking about the transformative effect of tailoring; how a garment can make you feel something about a person that you knew nothing about. This idea began to consume me.
I didn’t get the Wall Street job. So now I was broke and, worse, I had to buy a bespoke suit. I had about a month left of summer to scrounge up $2,000 before training camp started and I’d be committed to 3-a-day basketball workouts. I sold almost all of my possessions on eBay that August; a collection of rare Jordan sneakers, some designer clothes I bought second-hand in NYC, even the flat screen TV that was the center piece of my 200-square-foot dorm room. It took about 2 weeks for everything to clear, but I had the money.
I did some intense online research, picked from a list of custom tailor shops in NYC, and walked into Michael Andrews Bespoke with $2,500, feeling like a boss. That day I broke the record for the longest new client appointment. Mike and Clark ordered me a salad for lunch, then pizza for dinner, and we capped it off by drinking whiskey into the late hours. I was full of questions and could feel myself developing an obsession with this whole concept of custom-made menswear.
I ended up buying 4 suits that day, and convinced Mike to let me give him $2,500 as my 50% up-front down payment. I was riding high and figured I could hustle up another $2,500 before my final fitting 8 weeks later. I was wrong. I was the first client to go on a payment plan to pay off his suits. Later I was also the first client to default on his payment plan. Down and out, I talked Mike into letting me work off my clothing debt. I did a little bit of everything that first month, from picking up lunch for the sales team to sweeping the floors in the tailor shop.
As the business grew I moved into a sales role and began meeting with clients individually to help them design suits and put together wardrobe packages. By walking guys through every step of the bespoke process and answering all of their questions, I learned a tremendous amount how men purchase clothing, and more importantly, how they want to purchase clothing.
The biggest problem I found with the traditional bespoke model is that, for the vast majority of guys, there are far too many options. Thousands of fabrics, linings, lapel shapes, pocket styles, buttons, thread colors, etc. The options are literally endless. For this reason, bespoke (and MTM) clients often experience decision anxiety and buyer’s remorse. You wouldn’t believe the emails received from clients who were losing sleep over whether or not they should make their last buttonhole in red thread or not.
The deeper problem is that the current bespoke process removes the most important person in the fabrication of a garment; the designer. Designers are trained professionals who dedicate their lives to developing an aesthetic and creating beautiful, functional pieces. It’s not something that should be left to a novice, especially for a purchase that is meant to last the test of time. This is why, at Articles of Style, we offer designer garments with a custom fitting process.
As Michael’s business continued to grow, I took over as Director of Measuring & Fitting. It was an ideal learning opportunity, as I was spending my nights studying the finer points of pattern-making and craftsmanship in the menswear design program at FIT. For three years I was fitting 10-15 bespoke suits a day. I fit thousands of suits, on thousands of different body types. It was a grueling learning experience, but it brought me an undeniable satisfaction every time I helped make a client look great and feel confident.
As the online menswear space began to grow exponentially, there was a new wave of “online custom clothiers”. I thought this was an exciting movement in menswear, and began learning as much I could about these new e-tailors. Over the past couple years we’ve reviewed hundreds of garments from just about every manufacturer in this new space. We cut them apart, re-sewed them together, washed them several different ways, we even ran in them on hot days. I also met with the CEOs of these “online custom” businesses and visited the factories where they make their suits. After years in the traditional bespoke business, I needed to understand how someone could offer a “quality custom suit” for $500. It seemed too good to be true. And it was.
The underlying problem I continued to find when looking at these businesses or their products was that the people who jumped into to the “online clothier” space early weren’t designers or tailors, at all. They were engineers and web developers who figured out how to create algorithms to approximate a “better-than-off-the-rack” fit. The basic business principle was that they could automate the entire “custom tailoring” experience by having their customers design their own suits, take their own measurements, and send their own orders directly to factories in Hong Kong and Bangladesh for fulfillment.
It’s not just that self-measuring is impossible, it’s that measuring and fitting are not the same thing. A measurement is a data point. It can tell you that the circumference of a guy’s chest is 40″. But it doesn’t tell you anything about how the garment should to be cut to fit that guy’s chest properly. For example, the garment needs to be cut very differently if the client stands with his shoulders back, versus shoulders forward. Or if he stands erect, versus stooping. Or if he has one shoulder lower than the other. Or if he is asymmetrical in any way, really. The list goes on and on. That’s why tailoring books have thousands of pages. The point is, any tailor that doesn’t perform a fitting using a custom-made garment (traditionally known as a “basted fitting”) is only taking one crack at the pattern-making. This creates a risk profile that is through-the-roof when you consider the infinite variability of the human form and the thin margin for error in fine tailoring.
On top of all this firsthand experience, I was armed with an even more valuable resource on the current state of menswear and men’s style; our readers. For the past five years I’ve been in constant communication with the visitors of Articles of Style; fielding open-ended style questions from a diverse group of style-conscious men from all over the world. I learned that men today are looking for a one-stop shop where they can feel taken care of by experts. Men want to invest in quality tailored garments that are made with transparency and integrity. They want to look sharp and suave, but also have an air of comfort and leisure. Men are looking for custom unstructured tailoring, made in America. This is why we created Articles of Style Tailoring. Our goal today remains the same as it was on the first day I started the blog; to help guys understand the finer points of menswear, develop a world class wardrobe, and dress with personal style.
The best part is, because we operate online and deliver directly to our clients, we are able to cut-out the retailer who, in the current apparel business model, typically marks-up products an extra 100% to make the same margin as the brand who sold it to them. This gives us the opportunity to offer world-class American-made garments, with real fittings by real tailors, at a price that can’t be found elsewhere in the current market.
I invite you to learn a little more about our exclusive fitting process, and take a minute to explore the “updated American classics” in our new digital showroom. As you browse, keep in mind that all of the fabrics in our collection are limited in quantity. Some of our fabrics could only be sourced on small rolls, which means they won’t last long!
Lastly, I’d like to re-assure our readers that we will continue to push our editorial work forward. Our goal is not only to shake-up the custom tailoring business, but to become the leading one-stop destination for all things menswear, including quality editorial content which has been the backbone of the menswear resurgence.
Yours in style,