A career in engineering beckoned, but after falling in love with Nepalese tailoring during his gap year, the suit-obsessed student went home and co-founded A Suit That Fits instead.
There are two things you notice when you first meet A Suit That Fits co-founder Warren Bennett. First, his suit. Today, Drapers is told that it is an “Italian-length trouser with tapered leg finished just above the shoe, and a pleated-back jacket”. The second is Bennett’s passion for product. Quietly confident, if sometimes a little shy, Bennett becomes totally animated when talking about tailoring and how his bespoke suiting, multichannel business all began.
“I always had a penchant for tailoring and in Nepal [where Bennett spent a gap year while training to be an engineer], tailoring is just part of their culture,” he explains. “My first suit made in Nepal was an olive green three-piece with flared bottoms made of wool and cashmere. Everyone agreed the fit was outstanding - even if they weren’t so sure about the flares.”
So taken was Bennett with the Nepalese suiting craftsmanship - the family he was living with made bespoke suits, including his own - that on returning to the UK he convinced his friend David Hathiramani to go into business with him. Within 24 hours, a website had been set up and a market stall in Hampstead, north London, erected to sell the suits Bennett had brought back from Nepal. On the first day, they had sold two suits at the stall and one online. A Suit That Fits was born.
Fast-forward five years and this quick-thinking approach has paid off, with A Suit That Fits adopting an enviable model in an industry where consumers are constantly looking for different channels within which to shop. As well as the website, the business has 30 ‘studios’ across the UK - effectively stores, where consumers get measured and choose their bespoke suits - and 19 tailor stops, which are temporary, pop-up studios. A Suit That Fits offers a staggering 40 billion different suiting options online, and it’s all on the money. The business has tripled in size since 2008 (Bennett declined to give sales figures) and like-for-like sales are flying at between 50% to 60% up on last year. At the end of March, it recorded its biggest sales week to date.
In March, A Suit That Fits acquired the assets of Savile Row tailor Sartoriani, which Bennett explains was mainly for the tailor’s customer base. “Sartoriani has a huge, nationwide customer base and we have the facilities to deliver what has already been ordered and turn those customers towards A Suit That Fits for their next purchase,” he explains.
Surprisingly, the business still manufactures all its suits in Nepal, using the same family that made Bennett’s first suit. “Nepal is by no means the cheapest place to produce but the quality is outstanding,” he explains. “We started using just the one family but this quickly grew and we now have more than 100 tailors in Nepal who we have brought together under one roof - basically a large mansion in Kathmandu with a barbecue on the roof deck.”
But with A Suit That Fits now making about two tonnes of suits every month and reaching its 40,000th order in April, Bennett is all too aware of the need to expand - and expand economically. “I will never stop working in Nepal,” he says. “However, we have now reached a size where we need to start considering [new manufacturing bases] and it is unlikely these will be outside of Asia. In the UK, less than 1% of suits manufactured here are bespoke suits; in India it’s over 50%. It’s a no-brainer.”
What also sets A Suit That Fits apart is its truly personal approach, which translates online. Instead of model shots on the website, A Suit That Fits uses its own staff - or style advisers, as they are referred to - to showcase the product, with photos ranging from the wacky to the professional. The idea is to emphasise that a great suit really does fit anyone. “The staff are showcased on the site to allow users to get to know the real people behind the business and they often form a personal relationship with them, even before they come to meet us [at a studio],” Bennett explains.
In fact, style advisers play a huge part in the business. Bennett is a natural people person and gives in-depth accounts of every employee in the business. About 80% of customers come into a studio for their first visit and often then stay in contact with their style advisers through the site, rather than revisiting the studio again. Because all measurements have been taken by experts in the studio, a third of customers reorder from the site within six months. Prices range from a £200 two-piece suit made from man-made fibres to the Distinguished range, which is around the £550 mark and includes detailing such as working buttons on cuffs and hand-stitched finishing.
While A Suit That Fits’ core customer is still the professional working man, some of its best-selling styles are David Beckham’s grey suit - a three-piece worn by the footballer - and Prince William’s petrol blue suit, worn to announce his engagement to Kate Middleton.
So what next for A Suit That Fits? It plans to open more studios in the UK, but Bennett declines to give specific figures at this stage, saying only that the five opened this year were ahead of expectations. He also intends to take the business global, but believes there is still plenty of research to be done, including the feasibility ofmanufacturing and delivering from Nepal. And there is plenty more to do in the UK.
“Our aim is to become the UK’s local tailor and be both accessible and premium to the mass market,” says Bennett.
He is also planning to grow the womenswear business. “We launched womenswear about nine months ago but quickly noticed the difference between the way men and women shop online,” Bennett explains. “Women are more emotional and it takes them longer to buy a product that they can’t see. Women are also a lot more trend-led when it comes to suits. Men have a much more simple approach and the majority want a structured, tapered fit and understand what this will look like without having to see the final version.”
It only took him five years to get to where the business is now; you sense Bennett can crack womenswear in an even shorter time frame.