There’s a great article in the NYT about why even the best and most highly skilled bespoke tailors in New York struggle to make a good profit. The usual suspects play a role – cheaper alternatives and high rent in particular – but the real problem is of course one of scalability:
As Rowland explained to me, even with a century-old reputation and a profoundly loyal customer base, it’s nearly impossible to get ahead. “There’s no scalability,” she explained. “Whether we’re making 50 suits or 1 — each unit costs the same.”
Bespoke suits — like expensive couture gowns — are great for building a reputation, but they are lousy for business. And modern clothiers’ profits have long come from establishing a strong brand and then emblazoning it on all sorts of cheaper products, like fragrances, which can be mass-produced. Michael Kors and Ralph Lauren — not to mention Carolina Herrera — began as small studios before spinning off into variegated billion-dollar businesses. Meanwhile, Anderson & Sheppard stuck to its stock in trade and has stayed about the same size.
The only way to make money in the perfectionist craftsperson industry, it seems, is to stop being a perfectionist craftsperson.