Made-to-measure suit brand InStitchu has expanded into womenswear with a new range of suits and separates for female customers.
The range was supposed to launch in mid-March but had to be delayed after the coronavirus pandemic forced the brand’s showrooms in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Canberra and Adelaide to close.
Now those showrooms are open for business again, and the brand is ready to introduce its custom suit offering to a whole new audience.
“It’s not a competitive landscape at all for made-to-measure suits for women, especially at our price point,” James Wakefield, InStitchu co-founder and managing director told Inside Retail.
That might explain why a growing number of women have been buying InStitchu suits over the years, despite the fact that the patterns are designed for male bodies.
Wakefield said the numbers really caught his attention about three years ago, and ever since, the business has been working to develop patterns for women’s blazers and pants, select new fabrics with stretch and adjust the fit algorithm in the back end.
“We’re really excited with the collection. It appeals to the female who wants to wear a corporate style suit to work, but also to the female who wants to wear a suit as a fashion item and mix and match a blazer with jeans on the weekend,” Wakefield said.
InStitchu plans to market the new range primarily through word of mouth, which is how most customers find out about the brand, according to internal data.
“That network effect has proven to be InStitchu’s catalyst for growth,” he said.
Wakefield believes the women’s range could easily account for 30 per cent of revenue going forward, but said he’d like to see it drive 50 per cent of the business or more.
“Our business is about giving customers what they want, even if our customer base changes over time,” he said.
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Wakefield started InStitchu with friend Robin McGowan as an online-only business in 2012. Since then, the pair have opened 11 bricks-and-mortar showrooms across Australia and one in New York City.
They have also received a $3 million investment from Chinese suit manufacturer Dayang Group as part of a strategic partnership to grow the brand internationally and reduce the production time of its custom orders.
Last year, InStitchu opened a concession in David Jones’ Sydney flagship store, and recently, it moved into David Jones’ refurbished menswear floor on Elizabeth Street. Wakefield calls it his favourite showroom.
Like most retailers, however, the fast growing business has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing restrictions.
On top of temporarily closing stores in Australia, InStitchu was forced to indefinitely postpone the opening of its first store in the UK in London’s renowned Covent Garden.
“We were due to launch on April 1, but now we’re treading water and not sure what date we’ll be opening,” Wakefield said.
InStitchu has also been affected by the widespread postponement of weddings, which typically make up 30 per cent of revenue. Even though it continued to trade online while stores were shut and offered fitting consultations by video, sales didn’t match pre-pandemic levels.
“A tailor-made suit isn’t the sort of purchase someone is buying when they’re in isolation at home,” Wakefield said.
But business is finally starting to return to normal.
Wakefield said InStitchu recently received a flurry of orders from couples ordering suits for rescheduled weddings, average delivery times out of China are down to five days and all showrooms are back open with intense new hygiene procedures in place.
This includes hand sanitising stations at the front of every store, which customers must use upon entering, as well as optional masks and gloves, and temperature checks for staff at the start of the shift.
“We’re appointment only by nature, so that gives us confidence we can track every person who comes into the store,” Wakefield said.
The retailer even managed to open its 11th showroom in Australia, on Queen Street in Woollahra, during the shutdown. The location was based on data about where its core Sydney customers live.