Bespoke Clothing: Fact or Fantasy

As a Canadian manufacturer of custom lingerie, I would like to say a few words about the term “bespoke” that seems to be appearing in unusual places. Bespoke really means “custom-made”, but in the case of apparel, the meaning of custom-made is not always interpreted in the same way. As a customer, if I were looking for a custom-made garment, I would expect that the vendor that I went to would take my measurements, generate a pattern specifically for me, fit and then sew the garment—I would expect all these steps to be done by staff at the shop.

There are, however, some apparel vendors and manufacturers who claim that they offer custom garments, but instead are either outsourcing most of the steps to off-shore factories such as in China, or are fitting clients into ready-to-wear garments from several brands. I once did a search for a custom men’s tailor in Toronto, Canada, and almost all the search results that I got were not the kind of tailor that I was expecting. Not one on the list actually did the garment from concept to final finished product in-house.

I discovered that some tailors who claim to offer custom-made garments only produce a muslin in-house. That single muslin is then shipped to China where it is then cut out and assembled, and then sent back to the tailor shop to sell to the client. I consider this practice to be very deceitful because a truly custom-made garment would realistically require more than one fitting. In fact, it is often necessary to do two fittings for pants to generate a properly fitted pattern, and then another fitting in the actual fabric that the client chooses.

This type of practice undermines the true custom-garment manufacturer who does all steps in-house. The upshot of producing one muslin and outsourcing the rest of the process off-shore is that these vendors claim to offer custom-made garments at significantly cheaper prices. I think if someone wanted just cheap clothes, they would probably be better off choosing something off the rack at a store. A custom-garment manufacturer that is charging in the $1000s for a garment is really ripping off the client because the client is overpaying for something that isn’t even properly fitted to their body. If a customer truly wants a custom-made garment, then they need to understand that paying for the labour of a skilled craftsperson is a very realistic expectation. In short, a skilled person deserves to be valued and treated fairly.