Meet the IKEA of men’s suits

A $3,000 suit for $600?

CB_meet-ikea-suitThere’s an old adage that you get what you pay for. And it’s a good rule to live by, especially if you haven’t heard of Suitsupply.

Canadians soon will, as the Dutch menswear retailer has announced it will make landfall in Canada sometime this year. The company has been dubbed the Ikea of designer suits for its ability to offer executive-salary suiting at intern-level prices. (The average Suitsupply two-button starts at $469.) Founded in Amsterdam in 2000, Suitsupply opened its first North American stores in New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. last year to much fanfare. Now it’s setting its sights on Toronto, with Calgary, Vancouver and Montreal to follow.

“Those are the cities where we see lots of traffic online, so we’re following the leash a little bit,” explains Nish de Gruiter, who heads the retailer’s North American operations. In fact, Suitsupply’s rep has a lot to do with the success of its online business: Suitsupply’s distinct coffin-shaped boxes are shipped to your doorstep in two to four days—“anywhere in the world”—and can be returned free of charge. But it’s the uncanny quality of the clothing that keeps customers coming back.

One famous example: In 2011, The Wall Street Journal arranged for a blind review of suits from Suitsupply, J. Crew, Hart Schaffner Marx, H&M, Target and Armani. The $614 Suitsupply suit was deemed comparable to the $3,625 Armani—and blew all the others clear out of the water.

How is this is possible? The magic of vertical-integration. Suitsupply designs, makes and ships its products from Asia and Portugal without employing margin-hungry middlemen. “The Zaras and H&Ms have been doing it for years,” says CEO and founder Fokke de Jong. “We’re bringing that kind of system to the luxury market.”

The company also keeps costs down by selecting unconventional spaces for its retail locations—like the two-storey office space it leases in North Chicago, which features a wraparound patio terrace with couches and an espresso bar. While the company’s choice of Toronto’s posh Yorkville district isn’t exactly unconventional, its Apple-esque in-store experience, which includes on-site tailoring, certainly will be. “We’re bringing a new energy to the world of tailoring,” says de Jong.

As he explains, the pace of Suitsupply’s expansion has thus far been dictated by its ability to find the right people. “You can make a well-made suit with the best fabric, but if you sell it to the person in the wrong size, it’s still not a very nice suit,” explains de Jong. That may help to explain why, although it’s had some difficulties in finalizing the lease for its first Canadian location, it has already sent staff to be trained in the art of fabrics and fit at the company’s “suit school” in the Netherlands.

Suitsupply’s ability to deliver on both quality and price is already being hailed as nothing short of a revolution in menswear. Perhaps future retailers will earn the title of being the Suitsupply of their category.

Max Fawcett is an Edmonton-based journalist and the managing editor of Alberta Venture Magazine.

Suitsupply looks that punch above the price tag

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Light brown linen in a slim modern fit. Goes great with sockless loafers or a pair of sneakers


The biggest winner

This is what $57 billion looks like

This is Amancio Ortega. He’s the 76-year-old Spaniard responsible for the supply-chain marvel that is Zara. (He owns 60% of Inditex—the world’s largest fashion group—which owns the label.) And he just booted Warren Buffett out of the Top 3 on Forbes’ annual rich list, amassing riches faster than any other person on earth (US$19.5 billion last year). So why does he look so sad? It might have something to do with that shirt. He should pick up a new one at Zara. He’d probably get the staff discount.