I love getting custom-made suits done in Southeast Asia. I’ve done it multiple times in Thailand. Labor is cheap, skill level is high, and competition is intense.
That translates into a great opportunity for consumers. But it isn’t the same opportunity that many think it is.
- Tailor shops will make clothes for you in whatever time you have. But if you don’t have 4-5 days you probably aren’t really getting custom-made. Suits aren’t being properly made for you in a day.
- Suits are cheap but they aren’t dirt cheap if you want quality. Don’t buy a suit with shirt and tie thrown in for $99. It’s going to be a $99 suit, and more or less wastes your time getting it and the opportunity foregone for something better. Expect to pay for quality — while labor is cheap, good materials won’t necessarily be.
I’d expect to pay ~ $300 for a good quality suit in Thailand. Hong Kong will be more expensive.
The biggest challenge is knowing where to go, whom to trust. Most of us aren’t experts in suits. And you can’t always trust recommendations — you don’t know who is writing online most of the time, the online review could be out of date, a hotel concierge could be getting something in return for the recommendation.
I generally take a recommendation, hopefully more than one, and then make clear at the shop that I’ve been through the process before. I know I’m going to pay for quality, I’m probably not going to get the very best price I could (I’m going to get ‘taken’) but it’s still going to be a great price for a great suit compared to what I’d be able to buy at home.
I also make sure to have enough time to go in for a first fitting (where I’ll pick design and materials), a second fitting, and a final fitting. Many tailor shops will come to you for the second and the third (remember, labor is cheap).
And at each stage I will insist on whatever changes I need. The suit should be perfect. And you shouldn’t pay until the job is done. That keeps the tailor incentivized to get things right.
Always keep contact information for the tailor shop, they’ll keep your measurements on file. Three years ago I had three suits made (with second set of slacks each) in Phuket. One suit had threads begin to bunch after a couple of dry cleanings. The tailor shop acknowledged they had other reports of problems with the material of that suit, and they sent me a replacement that was a close approximation of the material. Separately I realized it had been a very, very long time since I had gotten my tuxedo and it no longer fit right… so I emailed, negotiated price, and received a new tux in the mail. A perfect fit, and at a better price than I would have paid at home.
A trustworthy tailor that expects repeat business is a very valuable thing indeed. So when you have a good experience, write about it so others may benefit.
Fly and Dine got suits made in Hong Kong recently and offers his rules for buying custom-made suits in Asia.
Rule #1: Don’t get anything made if you don’t have the time for multiple fittings.
Rule #2: Don’t base your choice of tailor off of one blog post.
Rule #3: You will get what you pay for, even if you’re getting ripped off.
Rule #4: When you feel like you’re getting so much “Sales Speak” that it feels like you’re buying a used car, walk away.
Rule #5: Insist that the person you first dealt with will be the one you always deal with.
Rule #6: Know the right questions to ask.
Rule #7: Don’t accept the final product if you’re not satisfied.
Each of his rules gets a longer discussion in the post.
A visit to Southeast Asia is a great opportunity for custom-made clothes — for me and for women, bring your ideas, they’ll usually be able to make most anything you wish.