Maverick Suitsupply founder Fokke de Jong has found a niche providing high-quality, unusual designs at accessible price points, and, like his brand, is determined not to fit in.
Suitsupply’s Vigo Street store in London’s West End is a hive of activity when Drapers arrives on a Wednesday afternoon. Staff of the Dutch tailoring brand, dressed in plaid suits and glossy brogues, dart about, while equally smart customers peruse shirts, jackets and ties.
In the midst of it all, founder and CEO Fokke de Jong is a whirlwind of energy. Dressed in chinos, powder blue shirt, blazer and pocket square, he embodies the sophisticated yet slightly daring aesthetic that Suitsupply has made its trademark.
De Jong set up the business in 2000 when he was a student in Amsterdam, where its headquarters are still based. It started as a trunk show business – de Jong bought suits from factories and held events selling directly to customers on a small scale – but has now grown into an international and innovative menswear player, directly employing around 400 people.
Today, Suitsupply sells worldwide through its website and stores. It has an online presence in 100 markets and more than 100 stores worldwide, including three in London and 37 in the US.
The privately owned business refuses to disclose profits or turnover, but de Jong says year-on-year revenue growth over the past six years has consistently been between 20% and 25%. Last November, it attracted more than €300m (£266.2m) in investment from NPM Capital and four banks to help it refinance and expand its reach.
SuItsupply started life in the dot.com boom. De Jong spotted a niche for tailoring online, and launched a website soon after he started the business.
“I looked at tailoring and saw that it was something that was begging for disruption,” he says. “So I started an online, direct-to-consumer, high-end tailor. We were a bit ahead of the curve.”
Suitsupply quickly evolved into an omnichannel business. Its first store opening took place in Amsterdam within a year of launch, offering the services of tailors and in-store pick-up of online orders.
“We were omnichannel before the word omnichannel was invented,” de Jong smiles.
Eighteen years later, he says the brand’s ethos remains the same – quality at an attainable price point: “The business is still built on the same fundamentals as in the beginning. Very high-end makes, the best Italian fabrics – the craftsmanship we put into our products is very high end. Because we are vertical [and do not pay agency fees or wholesale], we can bring that at an attainable price point.”
Suitsupply has no wholesale partners, and manufactures for and directly supplies its own stores, from factories in 13 countries, including China and Italy. This enables its USP of quality at accessible prices, and stems from de Jong’s aim to shake up the market.
“The whole market was based on wholesale. If you want to do something different, then you do something that not everybody else is doing,” he shrugs. “There’s no way we could have made this value proposition if we worked in wholesale.”
Retail prices range from £299 for a pure wool suit, to £779 for pure wool. Shirts start at £69, and a cashmere and mohair coat is £699.
In addition to value, de Jong is keen to stress that Suitsupply is a world away from traditional tailoring and recoils from calling Suitsupply a tailoring brand: “We look at tailoring as an umbrella word for the more elegant part of men’s fashion.
“Most tailoring is sending out a message and a vibe of conformity. We are basically sending out a message of non-conformity. It gives a new energy to the products and our collections. We take quality and how things are made very seriously, but we play around with styling. There’s a little more humour in it – not only in price, but the way that we approach the market is more energetic and approachable.”
We are basically sending out a message of non-conformity. It gives a new energy to the products and our collections
Offering eye-catching checks and brightly coloured suits in modern, minimalist shapes, the overall aesthetic is dapper, fun and contemporary. While much of collection is simple and chic, there are plenty of options for the more daring consumer. Velvet, corduroy and shimmering satin options appear in colours ranging from pink to gold, and bold checks and stripes are anything but basic.
A new take on tailoring is something the menswear market has demanded in recent seasons, say observers.
“Our customer base is definitely moving away from streetwear to a more tailored look,” says the owner of one premium menswear independent. “Guys are becoming more daring, and they are loving the fact that you can get something different in suiting and tailoring.”
The owner of another menswear independent agrees, saying: “Men are much more willing to purchase something a bit more ‘jazzy’ now.” He reports an uptick in sales of casual suiting and blazers.
Suitsupply’s advertising campaigns echo the brand’s boldness, and have courted controversy because of their raunchy imagery. In 2010, it was ordered to remove an advert from its store at Westfield London in White City, after the Advertising Standards Authority received 24 complaints about its “erotic” content.
One image in the campaign, which was also banned by Facebook, featured a suited man lifting up a woman’s skirt.
In February 2018, Suitsupply’s spring campaign, which featured two partially dressed men kissing passionately, hit the headlines for its sensual nature, and the brand lost 12,000 Instagram followers.
De Jong says the brand’s mantra – “Don’t just fit in, find your own perfect fit” – informs the way it works at every level, from the products offered, to marketing, its vertical model and its location strategy.
We focus so much on our execution that people will actually go out and find us. It’s very much driven by word of mouth
Suitsupply’s approach to stores allows it to keep costs down. It works on a “destination” model, whereby it usually opens stores away from conventional shopping locations, hoping customers will seek them out. Staying away from big-name shopping areas also helps it to reduce rent and rates bills.
“We don’t need to be where all the usual suspects are,” de Jong says. “If you focus enough on your product and on the quality of your service, people will go out and find you.”
The most impressive example of this approach is the brand’s store in Greenwich, Connecticut, which opened in October 2017: “Instead of going on the main shopping street there, we took a villa, almost in a residential area. We completely converted it into a shop over the course of two years.
“We focus so much on our execution that people will actually go out and find us. It’s very much driven by word of mouth. It works for us because we focus on one thing: everything that goes on around tailoring. We stay very true to the core of our brand, and then incrementally improve things to make us better and better and better. That gets you to the point where people will go out and find you.”
Suitsupply has three stores in London: Westfield London (an exception to its rule of avoiding prime shopping areas), Lime Street in the City and Vigo Street, its debut store in the UK. The West End branch opened in 2008, just off tailoring heartland Savile Row, on a road leading to Regent Street.
Data gathered from online shoppers is hugely influential in determining where Suitsupply opens. It has stores across the US in key locations, and a new unit in Sydney was opened in response to its huge online presence in the Australian city.
Around 70% of sales come from stores and 20% come from online. The remaining 10% are “online-assisted” sales – where customers order online and pick up in store, or have items tailored in store. The omnichannel approach remains core to the business and is a focus for investment to ensure the journey from online to in store is seamless.
One tool currently in beta testing is what de Jong calls an “online fitting room”. When it rolls out, shoppers will be able to select stock online and shop staff will be notified, so the pieces are ready for the customer to try on when they arrive in the store.
Although digital investment is a priority, Suitsupply’s approach to stores is more measured. De Jong’s goal is to expand and improve its current portfolio, and expansion of the Vigo Street store is key as Suitsupply seeks to expand its UK footprint.
“We want to make sure we stay true to our core,” he says. “We need to make sure we stay relevant and contemporary. We’re making incremental improvements everywhere, which, over time, makes you stand apart. In fashion you can do a lot of little things that add up to something significant.”
One recent development has been the introduction of a women’s suiting brand – Suistudio – which launched last year with a standalone store in Amsterdam. Further stores opened this September in New York, Frankfurt and Milan, a Paris store is opening soon, and a collaboration with US actress and singer Vanessa Hudgens is launching for autumn 18.
Rather than hunting specifically for a brand extension, however, de Jong says the launch came about after he noticed a gap in the womenswear market for an equivalent to what Suitsupply offers for men: “I looked around and saw there was no proxy to us. There’s no one that really does tailoring in a specialised way for women as we do for men.”
We need to make sure we stay relevant and contemporary. We’re making incremental improvements everywhere
While it is still early days for womenswear, de Jong says the response has been positive, and is optimistic about its potential: “People say women are fickle. That may be true for some brands, but if we give them something that is incredibly cool and has the perfect fit, [and] so is incredibly complimentary, that’s much harder to find. I think you’ll find that our brand loyalty with women might be even bigger than with men.”
Although the nascent womenswear business looks set to bring longer-term growth, the power in the business still lies in the growth of menswear. Thanks to its distinctive style and bold, tongue-in-cheek branding, Suitsupply caters to the evolving menswear shopper seeking individuality.
“Men are spending more on clothes,” says de Jong. “They get more impressions now of how to look better via Instagram and social media, and they’re more interested in spending time and money on it.”
Suitsupply may have built its following under the radar, but with a smart approach to store expansion and a passionate attention to detail when it comes to quality, de Jong is well placed to lead the business into a thriving – if non-conformist – future.