Sam’s Tailor in Hong Kong: how old-fashioned craftsmanship survives

10/24/2018 8:17:24 AM

Roshan Melwani in Hong Kong is probable the most famous tailor in the world. Celebrities, world leaders as well as business people and tourist come to his Sam’s Tailor 24-hour tailor shop to buy a suit for any occasion. How does a business, built on old-fashioned craftsmanship, survive in modern times? Welwani (41) shares his secrets with Club China. 

The showroom in Burlington Arcade, Tsim Sha Shui, Kowloon, is not impressive, nor is the entrance or the shop window. What goes on inside is. In the 60+ years old business, set up by Roshan’s grandfather, father Manu measures a businessman. Elsewhere in the shop, consultants are serving customers, leafing through textile samples and style books to help them decide how the suit should look. Roshan himself is showing a customer the range of suit buttons and shirt monogram styles. It is exactly how famous customers like the US presidents Reagan, Ford, Bush Snr and Clinton have been served, as well as Russel Crowe, John McEnroe, George Michael, Michael Jackson and David Bowie.  

100% manual labour 

“It is still 100 percent manual labor”, Melwani insists when takes some time off from the bustle of the shop, a small unit tucked away in Tsim Tsha Tsui. In one of the 40 spaces his company rents in the Burlington Arcade for offices, storage and workshops, the third-generation proprietor of Sam’s Tailor explains how he builds a modern enterprise based on traditional craftsmanship. “I have 15 consultants who breathe this trade just as I do. I trained them carefully to be the tailor that fulfills Sam’s Tailor’s promise: the best suit in 24 hours, nothing less. In the quality and style that the customer wants, with a keen eye for detail: from the measuring to the cutting of the fabric and the moment the customer visits the shop to collect his garment.” 

59 tailors  

The ‘back office’ of the enterprise is formed by 59 tailors, men and women, some of them have been working for the company for fifty years. “They know their job: old-fashioned craftsmanship, in any style you can think of. Of course we adapt to today’s fashion, but we don’t change our core product. There is no way I can automate any part of their work and still guarantee top quality.” Roshan has found other ways to keep the service at top level. “We invest heavily in the advice that our consultants offer. First rule: we listen to what the customer wants. Then we ask questions. In way, I get inside somebody’s head. Then comes the advice about the style that helps the customer look great in a suit: the fabrics, the lining, the shirt and everything else. All of this makes our product very, very personal.” 

Fit like a glove 

The craft to makes a suit fit like a glove has its heritage and is not likely to change much, despite what factories dictate. Roshan: “The world is obsessed with ‘slim fit’. Mass production is producing suits of thin, unnatural microfibre fabrics that get lighter every year and that will encase and shell you. But our customers often choose better quality, more woolly and substantial fabrics that are more comfortable to wear, that looks casual.” 

So how does technology support the business of providing stylish bespoke suits to the world? “I think we do a great job in promoting our business by social media marketing”, Melwani offers. The key tools for Sam’s Tailor are Facebook (Business) and Instagram. “Instagram is the place to showcase our work”, says Roshan. #Samstailor shows just under 6,000 images of people who get measured or who try on their new clothing for the first time – lots of happy faces. “It is great promotion for us. Also, many people find out about us on Trip Advisor.” Roshan Melwani is particularly happy with Facebook Business Messenger features to automatically book measuring sessions for customers. “I find it amazing how much free stuff is out there on the internet that can help me build my business and stay relevant.” 

Putting together a suit 

Sam’s Tailor’s website offers measure up instructions that allows customers to order suits from their home. “The site, Instagram, Facebook: we try to use all tools that are freely available on the internet to support and promote our business. But again, they are support tools. The real product and the real innovation is listening, advising customers about colors, fabrics and about hundreds of details – and in actually putting together a suit. The innovation is in knowing what is current and applying it to an individual garment. That is our legacy and our bread and butter. We do nothing to modernize and automate that”, Roshan Melwani insists before he heads back to the shop to create yet another 24-hour miracle… “The greatest suit in the world… in 24 hours. Faster than anyone else on the planet! It has been our trade mark since the beginning and – call me old-fashioned – it will stay our trade mark forever.”

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