Meet the Co-Founders
We sat down for a (digital) catch up with InStitchu Co-Founders, James Wakefield and Robin McGowan, to chat about founding the brand, life in lockdown, and what’s next for custom, made to measure suiting in Australia.
Co-Founders Robin McGowan (left) and James Wakefield (right) at the InStitchu Clarence St, Sydney CBD Showroom
James, you’ve got a bit of farming in your family, how does that play into what you do?
JAMES: I grew up in Sydney but spent every school holidays on my Grandparent’s, and now Uncle’s, farm. The property has been in our family for over six generations and is located at Spicers Creek, NSW, between Mudgee & Wellington. I think it gave me an appreciation for the effort and hard work that goes into creating a really beautiful raw material like wool which is the key component of a high quality suit. It takes time, passion and expertise to craft quality, and that’s got to be there at all stages in the process, from start to finish. From that perspective I have a big appreciation for quality suiting fabrics. Whether that’s cotton, linen, or wool, so much work has gone into making them what they are, from the farms to the mills. Without quality at the first stage, you can’t ever craft a great end product in the suit. 100% Australian Merino wool, in particular, is special for me - the process of farm to suit captivates me, and the natural quality, durability and breathability of wool really elevates it above any other fibre.
Robin, can you tell us how you arrived in the menswear world?
ROBIN: For me it was more by accident than anything else. When starting the business I was looking for a suit for my first job out of uni. Choices were very limited and a custom, tailored suit was way out of my budget. The idea was born from here and we set about building our first website for InStitchu. As I began to learn the ins and outs of menswear, I realised I liked it more and more. I would spend hours late at night on Tumblr (an app before Instagram) scouring menswear blogs for inspiration. Delving into the history of suiting, discovering all of the customisable options and the importance of good fabrics really forced me to keep wanting to learn more.
The great thing about InStitchu is that it is accessible to anyone from all ages and all professions. Whilst still creating a luxury experience we always want to try and educate our clients about menswear or womenswear in a way that feels premium without being pretentious.
Co-Founder, Robin McGowan
Tell us about the InStitchu journey so far.
JAMES: We’ve come a long way in a very short time, and that’s been really exciting for us and those that have helped us write that story. We set up a few years ago in Sydney, with the idea of quality made-to-measure at affordable prices, and before we knew it we had a fantastic network of designers, marketers and passionate professionals working from a growing head office, not to mention Showrooms across Australia and New York. I think the real hero in our story is the customer - we’ve been really lucky to build our business on customer loyalty. Those who give our offering a go seem to keep coming back and sending their friends and colleagues our way! We couldn’t be more thankful for the support.
InStitchu's Sydney, Woollahra Showroom
How do you think InStitchu talks to the Australian customer?
ROBIN: I think our fundamental offering - custom, tailored quality suits at affordable pricing, speaks to everything the modern Australian man or woman is looking for. We care more and more about who we are and how we present ourselves and that’s a great thing. Choosing your own fabrics, the details, being measured perfectly - it’s not only practical to get the best result in a suit, it’s completely individual, and thoughtful, in a way that only old school tailoring can be. And, importantly, the price is where it should be - there’s no pretence or marketing spin, in the way the ‘luxury’ brands can sometimes get on a high horse.
What’s the most common thing you hear?
ROBIN: That shopping with us was much easier and more affordable than they had originally thought. Because men are used to buying off the rack, the idea of getting measured and choosing all of their own details sounds a little intimidating. But we very rarely hear anything like that on the other side of the purchase - it’s always that the process was simple, personalised and a lot of fun.
JAMES: The most common thing I hear is how can I get such a high quality tailor made suit for the price of an off the rack? People don't seem to believe it or think that quality must be compromised in some way, but that's simply not the case and it surprises our customer that there really is no catch. We're using the highest quality suiting fabrics available, and the latest technology without passing on the markup to the customer. This reinforces our core vision to democratise the tailor made suit and make ‘affordable luxury’ available to everyone.
I also love hearing the stories of guys who’ve always struggled to shop off the rack. Former school boy sports heroes who still have broad shoulders, tall guys, shorter guys - the whole sizing system in menswear is set up to work for a very small proportion of the public. And if you’re not in the 1% who fits off the rack perfectly, it’s going to cost you a lot in alterations to make it fit like it should (every single time you buy too). Buying custom, tailored means you buy for your exact measurements every single time. Even if you’re shopping online, you know you’re buying to your exact measurements and have the added comfort of our Perfect Fit Guarantee.
An InStitchu customer's custom, tailored InStitchu jacket and shirt.
Do you think the custom suiting route is more for bold statement pieces, or for 9-5 corporate workers?
ROBIN: Definitely both, and they’re often the same person. Often we’ll get someone to come in and pick up their seasonal workwear - a selection of shirts and suits in navy and grey with two-buttons, and then something a bit punchier, like a pin-stripe or double-breaster. And then that same person will come by and look to inject some fun and colour into their wardrobe for a wedding, the races or a special event - it could be a casual cream linen suit, or a bold, colourful windowpane suit. That’s the beauty of our offering - once you’re measured and familiar with how it works, you can start building out a really beautiful and versatile wardrobe from the comfort of home online, as all your measurements and designs are saved to you InStitchu profile. Or, if you like exploring fabrics in person, you can drop by to see incoming styles and collections in person, or we can send you a free Fabric Kit to your home, with fabrics you have selected, a measuring tape and step by step guide to shopping custom online. You can also book a video appointment to do at home with one of our Stylists who can coach you through shopping online from home and through any style questions you may have, at no extra cost.
Tell us about the launch of womenswear - how did that evolve? What’s the feedback been?
JAMES: The feedback has been fantastic. We introduced womenswear because we kept getting asked if we offer it. There was such demand for quality custom, tailored garments for women too and nobody catering to them. For us it was just about making sure that our womenswear offering was absolutely perfect (including our patterns which our team worked on to perfect for 8+ years) before we launched womenswear. We had the technology in place, the fabrics and the staff - after all, tailored womenswear sticks to the same fundamental principles of perfect fit and great quality. What we’re hearing is that it’s a great service that just isn’t elsewhere, particularly at our price point. The numbers have been really positive, particularly considering people haven’t been spending that much time at the office or at special events in the last year due to COVID-19. So far we have seen orders for bridal party suits (for example a female best woman or groomswoman), casual versatile blazers for work and play, pants and skirts and work suiting.
ROBIN: Absolutely. It’s really been a natural evolution for the brand, and a route we only went down when we were convinced it was the right time. We were catering to a very loud demand and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
How’s it been working from home? Surviving lockdown?
JAMES: From a personal perspective it’s been great. I’ve got a new baby boy at home so there have been some challenges trying to juggle work in the chaos of parenting, but saving on commute time from my place at Avalon Beach to the city means a lot more time with my family, in a beautiful part of the world, which is great so I'm not complaining.
When it comes to work, it’s just a challenge when the goalposts are moving so unexpectedly. One second we’re flying, business as usual, and the next our Showrooms are temporarily closed and we’re locked down with borders closed, operating from laptops and webcams. It’s all for the best and everybody in Australia is facing challenges, but I do feel for our amazing staff who are getting bounced around - it’s tough to live a normal life when you don’t know where or how you’re going to be working.
ROBIN: Agreed. James and I are able to shift pretty seamlessly to working from home when we need to - a lot of our work is liaising with suppliers and staff, and that can be done online. Obviously this is our third lockdown this year here in Sydney so when it comes to the technical processes, we’ve set up really quality systems for working together as a team - webcam meetings, really efficient workflows and planning, great communication through clear channels.
One of the benefits of being a ‘hybrid’ business is that we’re already set up to be able to cater to customers both online and in person - as the rules change we can easily pivot to an online only service, which was already one of our key business offerings. My heart goes out to people working in hospitality and the arts, where a lockdown grinds everything to a halt.
Interestingly, what we’re seeing from our customers is that they’re using this ‘down time’ to get on top of their life admin, and a big part of that is organising new suits and shirts for when it finally wraps up, so they can come out of lockdown looking and feeling fresh and hit the ground running. It’s a creative process and a lot of fun. One of the very few downsides of buying custom is that there’s a little lag between ordering and collecting - considering we’re at home twiddling our thumbs a bit, it’s the perfect time to invest in a new wardrobe for work and play. By the time we’re back at the office and celebrating weddings and birthdays, you’ll have a new look and new custom closet full of clothes to pull from!
If you would like to start designing your very own custom, tailored garments, you can start here using our online design tool.