A Suit That Fits: David Hathiramani and Warren Bennett
David Hathiramani on setting up an online tailoring company with Warren Bennett
With a total turnover of £900,000 last year and sales values doubling every six months, A Suit That Fits is an outfit to be reckoned with. The winner of 2008 Startups Awards online company of the year, sponsored by BT Tradespace, is a tailoring company with a difference. Not only do they offer over forty billion variations of suits made to order at the click of a mouse, they also do it at an off-the-rack price.
Online tailoring may not be the first enterprise you expect from a pair with backgrounds in IT and engineering, but luckily Warren Bennett and David Hathiramani don’t make the suits themselves. Their tailor-team in Nepal does that. While volunteering abroad some years ago, Warren discovered the team after they made a suit for him.
His smart, woollen tailoring sparked the original idea: why not bring good quality made-to-order suits, in any range of styles, fabrics and colours, to everyone via the net? At the time, David was working in the software department of a recruitment company and Warren was set to join Shell Oil, but they both wanted to do something else. David explains: “I was wondering why I was putting all this effort in for someone else when I could do it for myself.” When they hit upon the idea for A Suit That Fits, there was no going back.
They contacted the original tailors in Nepal to see if they were interested in their proposition. Once it was clear they were, they set about testing the viability of the project – although their initial research wasn’t exactly meticulous. It consisted of a stall at Hampstead Market which yielded two sales after a mere twenty minutes.
But despite the early encouragement from potential customers, turning the trialled concept into a fully-fledged venture was more work than the pair expected. “I was effectively the fund provider, working full time at another job,” explains David. “While Warren worked full time on the project.”
In terms of cashflow, the online model provided the ideal start-up template. David and Warren never had to hold any stock, simply sending requests out to their tailors in Nepal once the suits were ordered, and paid for, online. And even though the tailors are halfway across the world, the logistics of importation and deliveries has – incredibly – caused few upsets. David claims once dealt with well, distance isn’t a problem, but confesses the first six months of suiting orders involved a big learning curve. “You really need everything formalised when you’re dealing with people abroad, so they can’t go outside the guidelines you give them. Communication can be quite difficult.”
Though the company is based online, ‘in-store’ fittings are also offered at offices in London’s Liverpool Street and CanaryWharf.
Now the company is thriving, with a growing staff base and sales volumes increasing week-on-week. With plans for extra fitting locations across the UK, David and Warren have big plans for growth but realise it’s important not to get too far ahead of themselves.
“Because of the level of personal service we have to deliver en masse, we haven’t been able to grow at the rate that we thought we would. But for A Suit That Fits we see massive potential. Ultimately we’re looking at franchising it out.”
For now, they’re happy to get recognition for their success to date with awards such as their recent Startups win, which the team in Nepal are also celebrating. “Winning the awards has given everyone in the office a boost. It makes you realise why you’re working so hard. We’re growing a business – it’s for each other really – and we all feel very proud of the company.”