Can an online tailor deliver the goods? We took a look to see if InStitchu is cut from the right cloth.
It's no secret that Australians like to shop online — and we like it a lot. In fact, according to Roy Morgan, people who don't shop online are now in the minority, with Australia managing an average monthly online spend of AU$285. That added up to AU$24.3 billion spent in the 12-month period leading up to March 2013.
While travel is the top category for spending, fashion is still in the top five. But what about something like clothes tailoring, specifically a bespoke suit, which is sort of a weird mix of both service and goods. It's one thing to buy a new router, a new bag or even a pair of pants from an online shop, but it's another entirely to get clothing specially made.
Personally, I shop for clothing online a lot. But that's because I'm a big fan of vintage gear and trawling eBay is how I maintain a wide selection of 1970s leather jackets and embroidered cowboy shirts.
It also means I've had a lot of ill-fitting items arrive in my mail, as sellers occasionally get the sizing wrong, such as confusing a European 44 for an Australian one. Also, all too often, one manufacturer's concept of 'large' bears no relationship to what that sizing might traditionally mean.
So while an online tailor might do nothing for my penchant for vintage, it could possibly save me in the long run in terms of paying for alterations or just plain old having to give away clothes that have no chance of fitting. Besides, I've never "reviewed" an online tailor before, so this should be fun.
InStitchu is an Australian online bespoke men's tailor that recently scored a round of venture capital funding that valued the company at AU$2.5 million, and shortly afterwards, it bought Mantorii, an online shop that lets you design your own shoes.
InStitchu allows you to choose from a variety of set-style clothing (jackets, pants and shirts) in its collections or, far more interestingly, you can design your own from practically the ground up.
For shirts, this means you can get the collar and cuff style you like, with your choice of fabric and buttons — and even have it monogrammed.
For suits, it's even more detailed: buttons, pockets, lining, collar notch, pants pleating — the list goes on and on and on.
The whole customisation system felt a little like ordering a laptop online — or perhaps even more accurately, it felt like customising a character in a video game. If you've ever spent far too long worried about the jaw-size on your Fallout character, you'd definitely have a lot of fun ordering a suit from these guys.
But what I found really impressive was the wide variety in terms of how you could get your sizing right. If you're a standard-size guy, you can just order a standard-size item of clothing.
However, if you're after a better fit — and if you're not, why are you using a bespoke tailoring service? — there are a few ways to ensure a perfect size.
The site has very detailed instructions, including YouTube videos, on how to either measure up a garment you have that already fits perfectly or how to measure yourself (possibly with a friends help for the tricky bits). In all, there are up to 14 different measurements you can take to ensure a perfect fit.
If you're not confidant of getting that right, you can post your well-fitted item of clothing to InStitchu and they'll do the measurements for you. Or if you're in Sydney, you can book in for an individual fitting at a showroom in Wynyard (which will set you back AU$30), or for groups of three or more (such as a wedding party), Institchu will come to you and do the fitting. According to the website, this is a Sydney-only service, but it notes that "requests outside of Sydney and interstate will be considered".
Finally, you can actually print off the InStitchu measurement form and take it to a tailor of your choice — assuming you know a tailor who's willing to measure you up for someone else's service.
More importantly, once you're measured up, it's all recorded as part of your profile so anything else you order can be easily made to the same specifications.
If you're wondering why you'd want to go through all of this for an online suit (or shirt or jacket or pants), a lot of the appeal is about the cost. You can get a basic suit made up for as little AU$299, which is about AU$100 more than you'll pay buying off the rack at Lowes. Or only AU$50 more than this monstrosity. God help us all.
InStitchu co-founder Robin McGowan tells me that it's this combination of low cost and good quality that's made the service popular with wedding groups.
"The wedding market has really expanded for us in the last year or so. People are realising you can buy five or so well-fitting suits for your groomsmen at a low price — it really beats renting."
Of course, that AU$299 is the low end — if you add a few extras (and you will), you'll end up paying more. But it's still a very affordable experience, and InStitchu manages this by getting the garments made in China.
"Everything is made in Shanghai," said McGowan. "We'd [McGowan and business partner James Wakefield] been to Asia a few times and seen just how cheaply you can buy a great tailored suit over there, so we thought 'why not let people do that over the internet?'"
"We reached out to as many suppliers as possible and got them to send samples in. Once we'd narrowed it down to the guys we thought were the best, we met in person and set up the system. Our back-end is fully integrated with their front end, so they can see orders straight away."
This also means you're looking at about three to four weeks for delivery, although that's a free service if your order is over AU$100. (It's a AU$20 flat fee if it's under AU$100, so we recommend spending the extra.)
So price is good and delivery time isn't too bad — what's the quality like? Well, all of the above was written while I was waiting for my suit to arrive. A two-button single-breasted herringbone in charcoal, with notched lapels, pick stitching and paisley lining.
When it did, it was flat packed in the rather attractive box that you see above. It's obviously a safe and effective way to have it shipped from China, but it does mean you'll need to have it pressed (or at least hang it in the bathroom with the shower on hot) before you can wear it out.
In terms of quality, I'd have to be pretty picky to find any genuine complaints, especially given the pricing. There may have been a loose thread here and there on the lining, but a quick snip and it's looking as good as any of my other suits and better than most of them. In fact, I'd actually forgotten that I'd got pick-stitching on all of the button holes — the red stitching is ridiculously nice, as is the fact you can pull the breast-pocket lining inside-out for an emergency pocket square. It's these flourishes that remind me that this is a truly personalised item of clothing.
Size-wise, the jacket is pretty much perfect — it's easily the best fitting jacket I own. The pants I'd expected to be a little snug — there's been a few Christmas parties since my measurements were taken — but they're actually quite a comfortable fit.
What if the fit had been off? Institchu will cover AU$50 of alterations on purchases or you can buy a AU$25 suit insurance that will cover you for AU$100 — although the cover means you get reimbursed the alteration cost as store credit.
With the recent VC funding and expansion, InStitchu certainly seems like it's in for the long haul, and the business is certainly expanding outside of Australia.
"We're shipping internationally to more and more markets," said McGowan. "The US has expanded for us, as has Singapore and even the UK and parts of Europe. In fact, we just sent our first order to Kazakhstan."