As a business hub brimming with executives and white-collar workers, Dubai is a city where a finely tailored suit can be an essential part of one’s job. Yet, not everyone has the time or patience to visit a tailor, nor can they rely on an off-the-rack suit.
Enter Benjamin Siggers, a new menswear company in Dubai that sees a demand for a bespoke tailoring service. Founded last year by British expats Matthew Benjamin and James Siggers, it doesn’t have a retail space — instead, it relies entirely on direct sales, with clients making appointments for a consultation in their own office or home. “We knew the market for high-end menswear was there,” says Benjamin.
Currently, they’ve fitted roughly 150 customers, mainly a mixture of executives, lawyers, and bankers. Although based in Dubai, they’ve dressed clients as far away as London and Geneva. “We’ll travel pretty much anywhere,” says Benjamin. He and Siggers are currently the firm’s only employees, meaning they do the consultations themselves.
Still, there are plenty of tailors in Dubai to choose from, including some that offer visiting consultations in addition to retail locations. Looking to differentiate their company, Benjamin Siggers has focused on producing environmentally friendly menswear—a trend they hope will grow in popularity in the fashion industry over time.
The fashion startup’s garments are handmade in Italy, and they use organic materials and sustainable production methods. They plan to phase out conventional cotton in their shirts in favor of organic cotton by 2020.
Their suits range in price from about $1,700 to more than $8,000, with the cost depending on the fabric and construction. They offer a range of options for personalization in terms of styling, finishing, buttons, and other trimmings.
Much of their business comes from referrals. Still, getting leads in the first place requires them to make calls or to send potential clients a message on LinkedIn trying to score an appointment.
“If you do a good job, you’re likely to get referred on,” says Benjamin, who reports their company was profitable in its first year. It helps that both founders are well-acquainted with the menswear business.
Their approach is similar to a business model perfected by their previous employer. Both used to work for Tom James, a U.S.-based custom tailoring company that operates in markets around the world, including Dubai. Tom James also focuses on direct sales rather than brick and mortar showrooms and largely relies on word of mouth to grow its business.
Benjamin joined Tom James in London in 2010 and was dispatched to Dubai two years later to open an office. There he was soon joined by Siggers. Together, they built a client base of about 450. Dubai proved to be a profitable market for the company, with the office doing more than $1 million in sales.
Yet, Benjamin says he was always interested in starting his own company, and Siggers was similarly inclined. He also grew frustrated working at Tom James after finding it hard to introduce new ideas into the mix, with the company largely set in its ways.
Benjamin left Tom James about two years ago, after a falling out with the company. Siggers stayed on, but the two friends kept in touch, and in early 2017 they decided to launch their own company.
Before officially incorporating, the pair took several trips to Italy to meet with potential manufacturers and get samples made. They chose Italy because of the country’s rich tailoring history. It took time to secure suppliers, requiring them to drive from one end of Italy to the other.
An emphasis on sustainability was one of the ideas they wanted to explore. Benjamin points to precedents such as the food industry, where organic products have proved popular. “People understood that it was better for them and everyone in the production process,” he says.
As pollution is a major issue in the clothing industry, a trend towards sustainability is already emerging in women’s fashion—and menswear should follow suit.
They self-funded the company, with startup costs running about $25,000. It helped that they were able to poach a number of clients away from their former employer.
Over the long run, they’re also looking to cut costs by avoiding some of the middlemen in the production process. They plan to buy their fabrics directly from farms, instead of going to merchants, who add a markup.
Still, buying fabrics requires a substantial upfront investment, and organic materials also cost more. In order to expand, Benjamin expects they’ll have to pursue outside investment by next year. They’re also currently looking to hire their first employees.
After taking Dubai’s measure, these fashion entrepreneurs hope they’ve found the right fit.