The joys and perils of buying a suit from the other side of the world.
Here's an example of where the internet and modern communications have transformed what's possible. Online meets offline, personalised service in a mass-market, off-shore manufacture, on-shore sales - it's a whole world of opposites.
If you know me, you'll know I'm tall and slim. The "slim patroller" they used to call me in the day. Getting clothes to fit me is very difficult, never mind a suit. I can get the fit on the shoulders only to find no length in the sleeves and a tent around my middle. Trousers that fit my waist don't reach my ankles.
Recently into a new job, I thought it was time to invest in a new suit. I managed to squeeze 10 years out of the last one, but the poor old thing had had it's day.
This time I thought I'd try a tailor made suit (for the reasons mentioned above), but I didn't want to spend a fortune on Saville Row.
I'd heard of Raja Fashions before having seen their adverts in the papers. You might have seen them too - they talk of a Hong Kong tailor, Mr Daswani, who travels the world (mainly the UK and the USA) to measure up clients for his team of tailors in Hong Kong. You're promised high street prices, but tailor made quality.
(Offline advertising for brand awareness)
I recalled the name so I went online and searched Google for "Raja" and "Hong Kong Tailors" and sure, soon enough I found their site. On the site, I found a list of dates when he would be in London, and I could make an online reservation from the site for the date and time that suited me. As it happened I had a 3 week wait before my Saturday appointment at a Kensington hotel suite.
(Online lead generation and appointment facility)
I was kind of expecting to see Mr Daswani, but no, the room had 4 younger guys from his team, with suitcases of fabric samples, tape measures and credit card swipe machines. Very quickly I was being seen to by "Dennis" (I'm sure that's not his real name) who very quickly started to take details about what I wanted. I said I wanted 2 suits, one simple black one and a slightly more fashionable brown pinstripe. He measured me up, and asked questions about various options I had such as type of vents, width of lapel, angle of pockets, number of pockets etc etc. To be honest I wasn't quite sure what I wanted, it felt uncomfortably fast and I was getting flustered. Maybe that was his technique. Moving so fast I was caught off guard on the negotiation front. I was expecting to pay £300 to £400 per suit. In the end, with upgraded fabric, nice lining etc, I was looking at £650 a suit. I also went for a white shirt (only £50), so the total bill was a whopping £1350. Ouch. Whilst I was being distracted by a guy taking my photo, my credit card was already being processed and only 25 minutes after walking in I was leaving wondering how on earth I managed to just drop that kind of money and would I get what I wanted?
(Old fashioned pen and carbon copied paper, and a "tiger" for a salesman)
I was told to expect my suits within 4-6 weeks. 3 weeks in and the shirt arrived. Great fit, just that it was a little tight around the collar. I don't usually wear a tie, so I let it go. It was great to have a shirt that didn't flap across my chest and was long enough on the sleeves and tails.Being cotton, it has shrunk a small amount too. I thinkif I were to order more of these I'd get and extra 1/2 inch on the collar.
(International parcel delivery)
I waited for the suits, but they didn't arrive. 7 weeks in I emailed Raja Fashions in Hong Kong and was told by reply that they had despatched about 3 weeks previously. I was given a Parcelforce tracking number which I looked up online. It's at this point that I started a period of 4 weeks of stress trying to get my suits. I don't think I'll go into the full details here (it warrants it's own blog post) except to say that the parcel had the wrong house number on it, it was apparently signed for and delivered at an address 4 doors down, by a name not heard of by the owners of the house, with the suit no-where to be seen.
Given that this happened at Christmas time and I was having to deal with Parcelforce's customer service centre (think: impossible call routing systems that have none of the options that relate to your situation).... well, you can imagine.
(Automated UK customer "care" - nothing of the sort!)
Three weeks later I had manage to confirm that the suits were not where Parcelforce said they were and was just about to call Mastercard to re-claim my outlay, when Raja Fashions confirmed that they would re-do the order and send the suits over within 2 weeks. I had almost given up.
(Email Hong Kong customer care, this time with results)
Sure enough to the day, my suits arrived and I was this time given an SMS to alert me of the delivery with a choice to choose a different day if the proposed day didn't work for me. Nice touch. Shame they didn't do this first time around and I might have managed to get the suits.
(SMS customer alerting)
My suits arrived in a cardboard box, slightly crupmled after their journey. I tried them on straight away with some nervousness. It was 3 months of effort, a signficant amount of stress and a fair chunk of change to get this far.
The result? Spot on. Absolutely fantastic fit. I sighed a big sigh of relief and looked forward to wearing my new threads.
I had to take the jacket of one suit to the local dry cleaner to get the crumples steamed out of the arms, but that was no big deal.
I've since enjoyed wearing my new suits and I must say, the feeling of tailor-made has me converted. It's lovely good quality wool fabric, feels very sharp. There's no going back to M+S again now.
Would I use Raja-Fashions again?
Yes - I think I would. I am very very happy with the end result. The process to get there was very stressful, but I think to be honest I was just unluckywith the delivery. Raja-Fashions redeemed themselves by re-doing the order once they were sure that it had gone missing.
I've got my next appointment in 6 weeks time. A supply of shirts is in order I feel!
Apart from my personal story, the story here is of a very successful business that is a real mix of all possible ways of doing business: offline advertising, online lead generation and appointments service, face to face sales, old-fashioned payment systems, off-shore manufacturing, personalised goods, international delivery, email customer service, SMS delivery alerting. By locating in Hong Kong but by travelling to their customers around the world, Mr Daswani has created a compelling business model that is going from strength to strength. Good for him I say. Good for me too, the lanky odd-ball that I am.