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COVER STORY: Dressed for success

Buying a suit, even for a man who loves to shop, can give rise to a certain level of anxiety. First, theres the trying on of layered, woolen garments in cramped fitting rooms under dubious lighting.
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Buying a suit, even for a man who loves to shop, can give rise to a certain level of anxiety. First, theres the trying on of layered, woolen garments in cramped fitting rooms under dubious lighting. Then come the tape measure and the pins, wielded by a well-meaning stranger whose job requires a degree of proximity that could, at worst, be described as intimate and, at best, requires a loosening of the traditional Western rules relating to personal space. Meanwhile, youre standing stock-still (remember, there are sharp, shiny pins involved) and second-guessing where exactly on your waist you wear your pants. Wavering in either direction means tripping over hems that are too long or evincing a Noah-like fear of an upcoming flood. Oh, and if the store in question also caters to women even on a different floor chances are this whole discomfiting operation is taking place in sauna-like conditions.

Congratulations, youre sweating in an outfit you havent even paid for yet.

Of course, all this assumes you live in a remotely metropolitain area where such tender indignities are available. In rural climes, even the most rudimentary haberdashery may be out of reach. You may be out of luck finding something in style or on budget.

Heikel Gani and Kyle Vucko ran into all of these obstacles in 2006. Soon-to-be graduates from the University of Victoria, the friends were about to enter the job market. Step One: Buy a suit for job interviews. Step Two: Get hired. Step Three: Live a successful, happy and productive life. Unfortunately, Step One was proving difficult to check off the list.

Considering that Gani and Vucko were students, they faced some serious budgetary constraints. While Victorias high street may offer a wealth of options for tartan bedroom slippers and tea cozies, the towns paltry selection of affordable suits was, in their unstudied opinion, decidedly less-than. If only there were some way that men could buy custom-made, reasonably priced suits, preferably without ever having to leave home and go shopping, they thought.

We were both keen on finding and doing something entrepreneurial and this really jumped out at us as a great opportunity, Vucko remembers on the phone from his Vancouver office. I had friends who were studying a semester abroad in China and I crashed on their floor and spent a month in Shanghai and Hong Kong while I was still in university. I went to the tailor markets and along the streets and figured out that all this could be done.

Thus, Indochino, the worlds first online custom-tailored menswear company, was born at least,on paper. The pairs business plan bumped around and eventually caught the eye of Hannes Blum, the Victoria-based CEO of online book retailer AbeBooks, who ponied up the startups angel investment. From there [Blumin and others] gave us support, guidance and enough money to make a website and ensure we wouldnt starve in the meantime, Vucko recalls. In 2007, Gani flew off to oversee manufacturing in Shanghai, where he lives to this day. The site, Indochino.com, launched in September of that year with a handful of suiting options. Its initial success and potential for more of the same prompted former Yahoo! President and CEO Jeffrey Mallett to sign on as chairman of Indochinos board of directors. Its been steady growth from there, Vucko says.

Indochinos concept is disarmingly simple. A client visits the website and, in about 10 minutes, enters his measurements with the help of a friend, step-by-step instructional videos, or by measuring garments he already wears. From there he can scan the companys offerings: hundreds of customizable shirts, jackets, ties and suits (bespoke shirts begin at around $90 and suits $400). Want a notched collar and a functioning boutonnière? Just point and click. Dont know what either of those are? The site offers information and historical perspective on classic mens tailoring in an easy to understand, pop-up style format. Helpful directions can also stave off fashion faux-pas by uninitiated shoppers like ordering a shawl collar on a pinstripe suit.

Vucko admits that first-time shoppers might find the initial experience somewhat overwhelming, pointing to the measuring process as the companys biggest bottleneck. But, once those measurements are stored in your profile, he brightens, ordering future suits can take less time than buying a song on iTunes.

Plus, he adds, guys love customizing when it comes to things like colourful linings and monogramming and getting personal touches that are unique to their suit.

The online customization model proved so popular, with sales tripling in each of the following two years, that in 2009 orders began to outstrip what the companys loose network of Chinese tailors could produce. Indochino reached its first tipping point. As Vucko looked to more centralized manufacturing, he found that factories worked to the established business model of the greater fashion industry: large orders and long lead times. That wasnt going to work for a business creating individual, custom pieces on a tight schedule (most customers receive their garments within two weeks of placing their order online, meaning production times can be as short as 72 hours). So the company reinvented the concept of the assembly line. In the first operation of its kind in the world, an entire floor of a factory was reconfigured for the concept of large-scale spec orders: mass customization.

That was just part and parcel of doing something that no ones ever done before, Vucko says of the manufacturing coup. Weve had a lot of interesting challenges because of that. We were and are the only online-only apparel company, we were the first to do custom apparel online a whole bunch of firsts. As a result, all of the [fashion industrys] best practices either need to be tweaked or just straight up wont work for us.

Unlike the two collections a year put out by most fashion houses, Indochino releases a handful of new suit styles on an almost monthly basis, keeping a constantly updated stream aimed at its customers.

Indochinos bucking of fashion industry conventions also extends to advertising. Being a web-based storefront, print campaigns werent seen as essential to the brands growth. In fact, the companys initial success came from peer-to-peer referrals. Theres a small town in Sweden where we had one order and we now have 15 clients, Vucko says, laughing. That was all word of mouth and now we sell in 64 countries.

The companys main advertising vehicle these days is a dogged web presence. Visit the site once and its ads will follow you to any site with available ad space, reminding you that you were once thinking of buying a suit. Vucko says moving forward, however, the company will begin to advertise in more traditional ways (read: print) to reach a broader base of consumers. Hell need those sales to support the companys latest venture: a foray into casual wear.

With its latest summer collection, Indochino has loosened its tie, as it were, and offered up a casual collection of checks, summer neutrals and chinos that are nonetheless office-wearable if only on casual Fridays. They have also introduced a new 100 per cent cotton suit thats finished with a slight sheen to give it the appearance of wool (but with the seasonal breathability of cotton). Looking forward, although it may not be anytime soon, Vucko sees Indochino as a new way for men to get dressed. From a single set of measurements youll be able to buy your suit, sweaters, even jeans wiith the click of a mouse, he says. That is whats going to speak to guys. Everything in one place, as easy as possible.

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