A bespoke service tailored for success
Yvette Shapiro talks to a Northern Ireland man who's ensuring our businesspeople are dressed for success
As business confidence grows, so does demand for the classic pinstripe suit, according to Londonderry tailor Patrick Cooper.
The 35-year-old is expanding his bespoke menswear firm, The Tailor Company, in line with increasing sales in Britain and Ireland, and plans to open a new showroom in Belfast city centre in the new year. He says tailoring trends are woven into economic performance.
"When the recession struck, nobody wanted to be seen in a banker's suit," said Patrick. "But now that the economy is doing much better, pinstripes are creeping back.
"When people are more confident about business and when there's more money in the economy they don't mind showing their confidence in the type of suit they wear."
Patrick grew up in Derry and started working in a menswear shop at the age of 17. "It was an old-fashioned, family-owned draper's store, very traditional," he recalled.
"They had two tailors and over the 10 years I was there I worked closely with them and really loved that side of the business, learning all about the fabrics, linings and styles.
"I opened up my own store in Derry, specialising in bespoke tailoring, and ran it for four years. I had to close it when the recession started in 2008 because there just wasn't the business to sustain the shop.
"But the bespoke part of the company was still going strong, so I took that on the road across the UK and Ireland, doing a lot of marketing through LinkedIn, which is the best network for reaching the sort of customers I have. Most are in senior roles in finance, accountancy and manufacturing, generally chief executives and finance directors."
Despite the economic downturn, Patrick found plenty of customers willing to pay a premium for personal tailoring.
"The luxury market wasn't too badly affected," said Patrick. "People at the top level like to continue keeping up appearances. Looking good really matters to guys like that and they find it hard to go back to buying off the peg when they're used to luxury. There was always money in London and that's where I built the business."
Patrick visits clients at their offices and homes, and has been building up his business in London, Manchester and Liverpool. He's recruited three tailors to work in the market in Britain, freeing him up to focus on Northern Ireland and the Republic where he's seeing a significant growth in trade.
Bespoke tailoring is a very personal business.
"I visit the client with a huge range of fabrics, linings, buttons and styles and we work from scratch to create a suit around them," said Patrick. "It's very much a personal choice on every aspect of the suit. We work a lot with Italian fabrics which are very fashionable at the moment. They tend to be lighter and have some edgier designs.
"The measurements are sent off to a London workshop to be made up. The master tailors there previously worked for Burberry and on Savile Row, so they're highly trained. Suits start at £595. People see a bespoke suit as an investment that they can wear for maybe five years. At the top end, people are spending up to £2,500."
Northern Ireland customers are, it seems, rather more conservative than their counterparts in London. "The most popular choice here is still a single-breasted, two button suit in a plain fabric," said Patrick. "It's pretty much the same style of suit that I was selling 10 years ago. Younger men sometimes go for skinny trousers and we're also doing tweed three-piece suits which are becoming more fashionable now."
And he reveals that customers often have a little bit of help in making their choices.
"Wives and girlfriends play a big role, In many cases, they come along when I'm measuring up the client and they're the ones who pick the fabrics and the styles. They usually get the final say."
Patrick's next move will be to develop his market overseas.
"Through LinkedIn, I'm getting a lot of inquiries from Dubai where there's a big expat community, so I'd like to move into that market as well as exploring other export opportunities. Bespoke tailoring works in every market."