IF YOU can find it in the medieval maze between Lombard Street and Cornhill, tailoring shop Cad & the Dandy is a delightful place to get yourself togged up. It mixes old-fashioned charm – an antique mahogany cutting table, an old leather sofa for those waiting to be measured up, a Union Jack across one wall – with a modern attitude to contrast with the deferential service style of Savile Row.
“We act with our customers as we would be if we were having a pint with them – we want to take out that intimidation factor,” says co-founder Iain Meiers. Expect cheery banter and maybe even a beer from Meiers and his business partner James Sleater as they tap your measurements into a laptop. Relaxed it may seem, but this is a young company that’s turned over £1.3m in the past year, and is lining up international expansion.
Meiers and Sleater can certainly claim a close kinship with their City customers, for they’re cut from the same professional cloth (as it were). Meiers qualified as an accountant and spent three years working in private equity at Barclays, while Sleater worked on the sales side at BNP Paribas. Following redundancy in the early days of the credit crisis, each decided to set up a tailoring business – both have family backgrounds relating to the trade – and after being introduced, decided to go it together. The aim is to offer Savile Row-quality suits at a fraction of the price – their fully bespoke suits start at £750. High volume, low margins and a super-efficient business model are key, and so far, it’s working rather well.
From ad hoc fittings in rented office spaces two years ago, they now have their flagship Square Mile shop, plus shared space on Savile Row (with long-established tailors Chittleborough & Morgan) and a Canary Wharf presence two days a week. Most strikingly, they’ll be opening two shops in Shanghai by the end of the year.
Cad & the Dandy are hardly the only people offering more affordable tailoring – other successful start-ups in a growing market include A Suit That Fits and Henry Herbert [see box] – but they make a strong case for the quality of their suits. The pair make no bones about the fact that most are made in China (from British and Italian cloth) but say that this is for the sake of quality as well as cost.
“There simply isn’t the trade knowledge in this country now,” says Sleater, pointing out that they have approached the government about training grants to eventually open a bigger UK workshop. “We’re growing our workshop in China, and taking experienced Savile Row tailors out to train people. It’s certainly not a case of throwing someone into a production line – it’s highly-skilled work.”
In fact, the Chinese workshop they’ve taken over was formerly owned and run by a Savile Row company. “The suits that we produce now, 16 months ago were selling on Savile Row for £4,000 and we’re selling them from £750,” says Sleater.
The pair have used their City-honed skills to bring efficiencies and up-to-date methods to an industry in which some of their more venerable competitors still conduct business by typewriter, and thereby cut costs. Their online set-up, including a slick interactive website and sophisticated system automating their orders, has won them an award for technological entrepreneurship and stirred the interest of Moss Bros, which offered to buy them as it planned its own recent move into affordable tailoring.
The pair turned the major brand down to carry on building their own – which is where the stores in Shanghai come in, capitalising both on the company’s manufacturing presence there and on the growing Chinese interest in good tailoring.
“There’s a huge affinity with English brands out there as wealth and business culture grows,” Sleater says. “You see billboards there for supposed English brands no one has heard of here, so there’s a massive opportunity to exploit.”
Not that that’s enough. The pair are looking at setting up an online, made-to-measure shirt business, while a side operation supplying the skills of their workshops to put together suits for other London tailoring houses is thriving too. Which means someone may spend £2,000 on a suit at a West End or City tailors which would have cost £800 from the people who actually made it.
“A tailored suit was always the ultimate thing, but wasn’t really attainable unless you were seriously wealthy,” says Meier. “Good tailoring is actually in fashion now, and we’re able to offer access to it.”
Cad & the Dandy, 4 Castle Court, EC3V 9DL, www.cadandthedandy.co.uk.
other affordable options
A SUIT THAT FITS
Founded by school friends from a market stall in 2006, A Suit That Fits offers customised, tailored suits at off the peg prices, from £150. www.aSuitThatFits.co.uk
One of the longer-running affordable suiting companies, Dress2Kill has a membership scheme enabling some discounts on its made-to-measure suits, which start from £250. www.dresstokill.com
A team of Henry Herbert tailors zip around town on Vespas, going to clients to measure them up. Bespoke suits take 8-10 weeks, and start from £595. www.henryherbert.com
KING & ALLEN
Fittings are held in various London locations (including The Counting House pub on Cornhill), with customised suits from £249 and hand-tailored ones from £499. www.kingandallen.co.uk
The suit hire specialist launched a service called Moss Bros Bespoke this summer, though it’s really more of a customisation service. Measurements and personal choices of cloth and finishing details are recorded electronically at the Blomfield St store in the City, with suits ranging from £250 to £500. www.mossbros.co.uk
Also more of a customisation service, Reiss’s new personal tailoring line includes 50 fabric options, various jacket and trouser styling options, and costs between £550-£695. www.reissonline.com