What Suits Can Teach Us About Markets

The standardization of products favors the advance of a frenetic intemperance in economy. Standardized goods, we claim, lead to the standardized masses. It destroys the human element that gives warmth, life and meaning to the economy..

In theory, such affirmations are detached and abstract. The best way to understand standardization is with real life examples. An article on custom-made suits in the September 4, 2012 issue of The New York Times Magazine is a perfect example of the point we make.

Author Adam Davidson comments on how the art of making a tailored suit is fast disappearing. Those who still wear suits today simply do not realize what was once involved. We are so used to picking something off the rack that it hardly occurs to us that buying a suit was something special.

And yet it used to be a personal experience. The made-to-measure or the more labor intensive “bespoke” suit used to be the standard, not the exception. The tailor was an artisan not a manufacturer. Davidson describes how the bespoke suit called on the tailor to create a unique pattern, cut a chosen fabric and construct a suit that fit perfectly the client and his preferences. Every aspect of the suit’s design was customized from the width of the lapel to the size and number of pockets. No two suits were the same. Davidson asked a custom tailor what makes a bespoke suit so unique. He replied: “It’s the result of skills that only a trained hand can perform. Modern technology cannot create anything comparable.”

While the bespoke suit may be a work of art, the nature of the business does not allow for huge profit margins. There is no economy of scale, since the costs of producing each suit is just about the same whether it be one or fifty. Because of the small volume, marketing is usually limited to reputation and customer loyalty. A person can make a good living at the trade but he cannot strike it rich and still maintain quality. “The only way to make money in the perfectionist craftsperson industry,” Davidson concludes, “it seems, is to stop being a perfectionist craftsperson.”

Only a few decades ago, there were thousands of traditional tailors plying their trade. There were also thousands of clothing factories that produced made-to-measure suits using quality-tailoring skills. The result was a comfortable, durable and attractive suit at affordable prices. Now, Davidson states, there are only a few dozen such tailors left in the United States catering to the high-end market. Likewise, there are only a handful of quality clothing factories left standing. In their place are cheap mass-produced suits, often made by the millions in China, which have flooded our markets. custom tuxedo NJ

What is really lamentable is the loss of tailoring skills more than we do the actual suit itself. We cannot expect everyone to be able to buy expensive bespoke suits that can now cost as much as $4,000. We would rather see a return to the same skills, artisan spirit and quality work once governed the whole price range of suits from inexpensive to very expensive. There is no doubt that standardized suits may be cheaper, but our point is that something very important has been lost in the process. Lost is that taste for quality that enriches and spreads throughout the culture. Gone is that personal interaction with the customer that helped determine fashion and established clothier traditions. Now it is the international fashion houses that dictate what will be in fashion for the whole world. We are left with cold impersonal clothing markets dominated by mass-marketing techniques and mass-produced items with a general decline in quality, especially as one descend down the product line.



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