With the vast majority of Americans quarantined and events canceled, it would seem a fashion category that would be hit hard is bespoke suits. But according to several founders, suit fittings are still happening, they’ve just moved online.
Colin Hunter, co-founder of bespoke suit brand Alton Lane, said his team has spent the past 10 days rapidly building and perfecting the infrastructure needed to get virtual fittings off the ground, to replace in-person fittings. The process has been informal and fast-moving, and fittings are now being conducted with customers over FaceTime, Google Hangouts and text. It’s Hunter hope that the virtual fittings, which kicked off last week, will be enough to see the brand through this rough period.
“We’ve done sales online and over text before,” Hunter said. “But this is very new for us. It’s been a rapid shift, but it’s a matter of necessity. And I think we’ll be able to come out on the other side. People are still going to need suits. Weddings and events aren’t canceled, just postponed.”
To transition, the company first created a digital catalog for its in-store stylists to use to conduct the virtual fittings. That involved digitizing its thousands of fabric swatches so that customers could see high-quality images of available suit materials. Hunter said, with the catalog, associates can create a custom digital package of swatch options and cut recommendations for each customer in as little as 30 seconds. That is then emailed to customers before a fitting session. Alton Lane is also working on a 3D tool that will let customers see those swatches transformed into full suits.
To promote the new option, Alton Lane has been reaching out to regular customers directly, both through texts and emails, asking them to give an online fittings a try. A fitting appointment can be made for a range of styles, from dress shirts to full suits. Hunter did not disclose the brand’s exact sales figures or digital-wholesale breakdown, but he did say that sales slowed significantly since the coronavirus-induced store closures. The company has 12 stores, and a large majority of sales are made in-store.
Some of the brand’s mills are closed, but others remain open and Alton Lane has 17,000 yards of spring and summer fabric ready to go and craftsmen on hand to make the suits.
Ray Li, founder of another custom suit brand, Sene Studio, said his company was fortunate in that it had already invested quite heavily in online fittings and orders, with more than 90% of the brand’s orders coming from the company’s online fit quiz.
“It just so happens that our business model works for this type of situation,” Li said. “I know it must be hard right now for brands that have a lot of real estate and people only buying in-store. But we’re profitable and we just raised a funding round, and we’re still fulfilling orders. Our model just happens to lend itself to ordering from home.”
Indochino, another custom suit brand, was unable to comment in time for the publication of this story, but a representative from the company said it had been offering online fittings since before the outbreak, which it has incentivized by discounting all online orders by 20% while stores are closed. To address the industry-wide pause, Indochino recently partnered with Canadian television network CTV for a web series called “I Do, Redo” about the weddings and events that are being postponed.
Alton Lane’s virtual fittings are promoted heavily on its social media channels and website. Customers who sign up for a virtual fitting can also get a complimentary virtual closet review, with Alton Lane stylists recommending products from Alton Lane and other brands to complete their wardrobe.
Suitsupply also does virtual fittings, but it has not promoted it specifically on any of its social channels in the last two weeks. Suitsupply did not respond to request for comment on this story.
In a webinar on Friday morning, analysts from McKinsey estimated that 70% of all fashion sales typically happen in-store and that the global fashion industry has declined by around 30% since the coronavirus began. For custom suit brands that rely on in-store sales, online fittings and more casual categories are lifelines to keep them afloat until public gatherings are safe again.
“I really connect with the idea of making short-term decisions, but making sure they make sense in the long-term, too,” Hunter said. “Virtual appointments make sense now, and in the next three weeks, we’ll have a completely customized swatch recommending tool for our customers. That’s something that will be relevant and useful beyond the scope of this crisis, however long it goes on.”