SARTOR LAB: the art of tailored clothing

08 2017 | Issue 22

Text/Lei Ka Io

There is no shortage of suit shops in Macao, and some of the world’s finest suitmaking brands are sprouting up in the casino shopping arcades. So what would be the advantages for Kade Chou and Victor Choi, newbies to the tailoring business, in this competitive market? “A lot of our regular customers said that once they have worn our clothes, they no longer like wearing off-the-rack suits.” The two young men founded SARTOR LAB two years ago. They imported fabrics and techniques from Europe and started venturing into the bespoke tailoring business. “Most tailor shops in Macao sell off-the-rack suits. Some offer custom-made services but the styles are very traditional.” Choi said: “We saw a gap in the market. Nobody is doing it, so why not us?”

Chou and Choi put a lot of effort in the founding phase. One of the biggest challenges was to master the tailoring and pattern making skills. Contrary to all ready-to-wear suits, made-to-measure suits have to fit the wearers’ bodies. Whether a tailor-made suit fits the body depends on how accurate the size is measured. Usually the measurement will be divided into certain parts and patterns are drafted according to the size measured. Then the tailor will do the necessary cutting. Chou’s father has been working in the industry for 40 years, and naturally he has become the mentor of both Chou and Choi.

There is no formula for pattern making because customers have different types of bodies. If no attention is paid to the details, the suit may look unfit for the body. “If a client has a large chest and small waist, the cloth has to be shaped like an inverted triangle. If the thighs are thick, you need more room for the pants so as to make everything more balanced,” said Chou. There is no end to learning the art of tailoring. “We also have to tackle problems like having a big fat belling and shoulder imbalance.” Under the guidance of his father, Chou’s skills have improved bit by bit. The storeroom on the second floor of the shop is stuffed with his experiments done in the initial stage, an evidence of endless rounds of trial and error.

If a tailor masters superb skills, naturally he would attract a group of loyal followers. Chou’s father boasts clients who have been supporting him for decades. He decided not to join force with his son and insisted to do businesses separately. Chou explained: “His clients are of the older generations and the suits he made look very formal and solemn.”

SARTOR LAB’s designs are modern and out of the box. The mannequins at the two sides of the entrance of the shop are a proof of it. The one on the left is clad with a dark brown jacket with brown and white tartan vest, while the one on the right is dressed in a deep blue plaid suit and white trousers. “People are quite conservative in Macao. They choose to wear either black or blue. A sensible choice, but a lack of personality,” said Choi. “In other countries, suits are ever changing and fashionable.” The name SARTOR LAB reflects the owners’ ambition. Chou explained that SARTOR means tailoring and LAB means laboratory. “We hope that our clients get a chance to try new ways to mix and match their outfits and accept new ideas.”

In mid-June, Chou attended Pitti Uomo, an important event for menswear held in Florence, Italy. Menswear brands and sellers from all over the world get together in this occasion and showcase their best collections. Models wear the newest collections off-site for photo-shooting on the street. Chou wanted to find out what’s going on in the industry and bring the newest ideas back to Macao.

SARTOR LAB’s positioning in the market has successfully attracted a group of professionals. “Our first group of clients got to know us when they stopped by our shop. They found our products interesting so they came in to take a look,” said Chou. They did not pay to advertise their shop, but they do share menswear trends on social media and give talks about it. They also enrolled in trade shows in Hong Kong, but the costs of making extra clothing are high and they cannot afford it for long. “Moreover, the chance of successfully pitching the right buyers is like winning a jackpot.” He expressed that they reply on word of mouth and returning customers to expand the business. They have already recovered the invested capital after one year of operation, and opening a branch in Taipa is in the plan so as to expand the business.

The Taipa branch has two storeys. The upper floor is dedicated to bespoke services. “The size of the shop is larger there and we will put a couch there for customers to rest their legs. We also serve coffee.” He supplemented that tailor-making a suit is actually custom-making a series of services, which includes selecting the right style, measuring, pattern making and fitting. Each step requires adequate communication with clients. “It’s important to upgrade their experiences.” The ground floor is designed to feature ready-to-wear suits and accessories like ties and leather shoes. “We would like to strengthen our brand by having different collections for summer and winter seasons. Customers will therefore have more choices,” said Choi.

At present their major headache is the shortage of manpower. It’s impossible to master all the skills in tailoring, and there are very few people interested in joining the industry. Apart from running the shop, the two owners are busy with talking to suppliers all over the world and promoting the brand.

Both Chou and Choi hope that in the future people in Macao will start wearing suits as casual wear. They believe that wearing suit is an exquisite art of living.