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Tailored Technology: The InStitchu Story | #097

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Tailored Technology: The InStitchu Story
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Nathan Bush is a director at eCommerce talent agency, eSuite. He has led eCommerce for businesses with revenue $100m+ and has been recognised as one of Australia’s Top 50 People in eCommerce four years in a row. You can contact Nathan on LinkedIn, Twitter or via email.

James Wakefield co-founded InStitchu with high school friend Robin McGowan in 2012. Having worked as an Associate Advisor at Macquarie Bank for four years, James was acutely aware of a gap in the corporate tailoring market: he and his colleagues struggled to build a wardrobe of quality suits ready for daily wear at affordable prices. There was, he found, always a compromise on quality, fit or range, particularly for younger generations with less disposable income. The rest is tailoring history: James left the finance industry and established InStitchu as the leading player in made-to-measure tailoring, focusing on quality, affordability and fit. Combining his business acumen with an entrepreneurial flair and excellent sales skills he has helped propel InStitchu to the forefront of Australia’s competitive tailoring industry. In his spare time, James enjoys surfing, golf and staying up-to-date on the fast-evolving global start-up scene.

Robin McGowan co-founded Australia’s leading custom tailored menswear provider, InStitchu, in 2012, alongside high school mate James Wakefield. Robin spent much of his youth growing up in Italy and Europe, helping spark an interest and knowledge in menswear, drawing from a playground in the world’s most iconic fashion capitals. In later years Robin developed his background in eCommerce, helping him recognise the opportunity in the Australian market for high quality made-to-measure, tailored suits at a reasonable price. Robin used this experience and opportunity to transition to the start-up world in launching InStitchu with James. To this day Robin lends in eCommerce and fashion knowledge to lead the growing InStitchu team in an ever-changing digital landscape, helping connect skilled manufacturers in Asia with consumers around the world.

In this episode of Add To Cart, we are joined by James Wakefield and Robin McGowan, co-founders of InStitchu. InStitchu are changing up the suit, work and all together put together the fashion industry by offering tailored designs at a fraction of the cost of traditional bespoke designers.  InStitchu are coming up to their 10th birthday. Starting with a $5K website, they now have a team of 60 including five in-house developers, 13 showrooms throughout Australia and customers all over the world.  James and Robin share what they have learnt over these first ten years including how they make custom product profitable, why they built a tech stack from the ground on up and how these high school mates have remained close during the ups and downs of business. 

Call it naivety or just blind optimism, but we did things differently and it really paid off”

James Wakefield

Questions answered in this episode include
  • How does InStitchu manage to make high quality custom clothing at such a competitive price?
  • How do you use data to drive loyalty and repeat purchase? 
  • What’s your relationship like as Co-founders?

No relevant experience

(James) “They say you don’t know what you don’t know. I mean, for us, not having experience in retail specifically meant that we probably did things a bit differently and thought about things a bit differently.”

(Robin) “I guess, we knew what we didn’t want when we were setting up the business and we’d looked at all the pain points of retail being holding stock and expensive leases. In my previous role I spent a lot of time looking at shopping center leases and the deals that greedy landlords were making with tenants on percentage rent deals and things like that. 

And obviously, stock issues that come with a big retail business, and for our business we only do made to measure, made to order garments, so we only produce the garment when it’s ordered by the customer. So, we don’t have those pain points.  That was really how we were thinking in the early days.”

(James) “Yeah, I think that’s exactly right. I think the reason we were able to succeed was because we just did things that a traditional retailer or someone with retail experience would go, “That’s never going to work. You can’t do that.” And so I guess, call it naivete or call it blind optimism, we did things differently and it really has worked out…but not without a lot of hard work and really slogging it out.”

Affordable luxury

(James) “Our front end e-commerce and our back end supply chain management software is all 

custom built by our in-house team here in Australia. And it is that technology that has really allowed us to streamline this process so that we can provide high quality custom clothing at scale and at an affordable price.

And this business model operates on similar margins compared to traditional suit brands but also it only really works at scale. So, for the first few years when we were trying to actually get the volume required to be able to make this a commercial business model, it was a tough slog, initially.But really, it is the technology stack that allows us to deliver this high quality product for comparative price to a ready to wear suit that’s been made as a mass produced factory item anywhere in the world.”

(Robin) “Just to add to that, in the early days James and I spent a lot of time talking to and traveling to different suppliers around the world. And we’d obviously in our younger years been to places like Thailand and seen how you can get a very cheap custom suit made. But we were thinking towards the future and we knew we needed to find a manufacturer or partner that could provide us with the scale but also retaining the quality that we needed.

So, that led us to our current manufacturer where we’re dealing with the largest suit manufacturer in the world with a focus on producing high quality made to measure garments.And that’s really the backbone on top of the technology that let’s us deliver the quality at the price to our clients.”

Creating an amazing in store experience

(Robin) “You could buy a suit, really, in a lot of places these days but when it comes to providing an exceptional service, that’s really what we’re about. And making it a unique and, I guess, fun experience for men and women to shop with us. 

So, when you come into the shop or showroom, you’ll notice there’s not much stock. There’s a lot of sofas and it feels relaxing. You almost get an hour out of your day to just relax and maybe have a drink if you want or just have a chill or whatever. And then it doesn’t feel like a daunting shopping experience because the stylist is there really to streamline the whole thing and make you feel comfortable and really provide a fun experience. 

And that is what we’ve found is our biggest source of referrals is just word of mouth and customers telling other potential customers about the experience they had.”

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