“The suit could have disappeared from existence but it’s the equivalent of a woman’s handbag in my eyes,” said Simon Berwin, managing director of Leeds-based suit manufacturer Berwin & Berwin at the Drapers Next Generation event in London today, referencing the decline of more formal dressing for men.
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“Look in my pockets: I’ve got my wallet, my keys, some pens and so on – all the stuff women carry in their handbags. A suit is very practical, so I think as long as handbags are strong, suits will be too,” he joked.
”Most men look a lot better in a suit than something casual that they try and throw together too.”
He said that retailers have been reporting difficult trading in womenswear while menswear has been holding its own in some sectors, which he believed was mainly down to innovation in product.
“Retailers need to be brave instead of just being concerned with price,” he said, pointing to the success of Moss Bros and Slaters Menswear, which he believes are benefiting from taking risks with bold checks and colours to entice shoppers.
“I’m a big shopper. I love menswear but I’ve been out for an hour or so on Regent Street today and I didn’t buy anything,” said Berwin, whose fourth-generation family firm manufactures and distributes men’s suits to the high street. “There’s no point in having four blue jackets and six pairs of jeans – you need something different to make people want to buy.”
His biggest career success is “survival”, he told delegates, as all of his father’s contemporaries manufacturing suits in Leeds have since disappeared while Berwin & Berwin celebrated its 130th anniversary last year. He moved production from the UK to China, Hungary and Vietnam to remain competitive and believes there is no future for mass manufacturing of men’s tailoring in the UK.
He also underlined the importance of being persistent: “It took me eight years of contact with one retailer to get an order, but I got there in the end.”