Having had three children, Ms Faith Teng finds that off-the-rack clothing no longer fit her well.
The 36-year-old, who has put on weight around her tummy, finds it frustrating shopping for clothes at regular stores as her "tummy has become bigger in relation to the rest of her body".
Medium-sized tops fit her chest, but only extra-large-sized clothing fit her waist, she says.
So when Ms Teng, who works in the public sector, chanced upon womenswear label Juillet's made- to-measure service in January, she decided to give it a shot and ordered a red knee-length dress for Chinese New Year for $170.
She now has four dresses from the online label.
It seems that made-to-measure clothing may be the answer for consumers such as Ms Teng, who do not fit into the cookie-cutter sizing offered by most mass-market brands and do not want to pay a premium for bespoke pieces.
Making to measure
Ordering your first piece of made-to-measure clothing? Here are four tips to keep in mind.
1 WEAR SOMETHING YOU LIKE
Ms Olivia Lin, 28, creative director and co-founder of bespoke and made-to-measure label Inventory, says clients should wear a piece of clothing that they feel fits them well for the first meeting.
She adds: "It's good to come to the studio in clothing you like, fit-wise. Then we will be able to gauge whether you like the clothing fit to be slim, loose or in-between."
2 WEAR THE RIGHT PAIR OF SHOES
Arrive at fittings wearing a pair of shoes that you plan to match with your made-to-measure outfit or pants.
Ms Lin says: "Wear the right shoes so that cutters will know exactly how to cut the pattern and clothes the way you like it. For example, with trousers, you really need to be in the right shoes - wearing a pair of boots requires a different cut of pants compared with a pair of dress shoes. The hem of your trousers might end at the wrong height if you don't wear the right shoes."
3 HAVE REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS
Do not expect your made-to-measure outfit to fit you perfectly at the first fitting. Even if your body measurements are taken accurately, the clothing is made without the three-dimensional form of your body, which may lead to discrepancies.
4 FACTOR IN EXTRA TIME
Sometimes, additional fittings may be required or fabric may need to be specially ordered, so plan a two-week buffer to accommodate such instances.
Ms Sarah Lim, 32, co-founder of womenswear label Juillet, says: "Sometimes, a customer comes to us (expecting the dress to be done) within a very short period of time and we do not have enough time to source for suitable material or fabric."
Bespoke items, which are designed from scratch and tailored specifically for the buyer, can cost about $2,000 for a cocktail dress and take at least two months to make, with multiple fittings required.
On the other hand, a made-to- measure cocktail dress - which is pre-designed, but can be tweaked to fit better and have certain elements changed - costs below $300, depending on the fabric, and takes two weeks to make.
Amid the proliferation of mass- market brands, consumers are also looking for outfits that are different, say retailers here.
In the past two years, at least four home-grown labels offering made- to-measure services have popped up, including unisex label Inventory, womenswear brand Outpost, men's shirt and suit label Haber and CustomMade, which makes men's dress shoes.
Established luxury houses have also started offering such services, with German label Hugo Boss launching its made-to-measure service at its Takashimaya boutique in March last year. Italian fashion house Prada also offers such a service for suits, coats, blazers, shirts and trousers at its Paragon boutique.
Apart from being able to customise the length and fit of the clothing, clients can also change details such as pockets, zippers, buttons and fabric.
Ms Sarah Lim, 32, Juillet's co- founder says that many women like the idea of tweaking designs to their liking.
She started the business with two friends in December as she felt a fashion label "had to be inventory- light yet offer a variety of apparel".
Juillet's customers are mainly professional working women between the ages of 24 and 39. The label sells dresses, tops and skirts that can also be bought as ready-to-wear pieces. Prices start at $69.
Mr Leslie Chia, 49, who launched Haber in 2015, says: "Made-to-measure is for people, such as fresh graduates, who are new to custom clothing and do not want to spend a premium. It's value for money and there is a fast turnaround time."
He adds: "People are used to off- the-rack clothing, but they might find that certain parts of the clothing might not fit well. For example, it might fit at the chest area, but the sleeves might be too long or too short."
For designers, making clothes to measure gives them room to put their tailoring skills to good use.
Ms Olivia Lin, 28, creative director and co-founder of bespoke and made-to-measure label Inventory, says: "Our customers are either very slim and tall or very big, and our skills come into play because we can create clothes that fit them well and make them look good."
She launched Inventory with her sister Amanda, 26, in June last year as they felt it was the right time to start a made-to-measure label here.
Ms Lin says: "A lot of Singaporeans are well-travelled and want to support local designers, while still expecting a high standard."
The label, which has a studio in Club Street, specialises in functional workwear for men and women, including shirts and jackets with pockets, zippers and D-rings as well as Gurkha-style jeans. Prices start at $220 for shirts.
Ms Lin says: "A lot of our friends like streetwear brands such as Supreme, but the sizing is too big for them or the clothes are too thick for our climate, so this is a gap that's waiting to be filled."
Four items you can customise
1 Classic fit and flare dress in red and pink print, $129.90, Outpost
Outpost’s signature fit and flare dress is made with a breathable and comfortable cotton-blend fabric.
The red tones of the leaves on the fabric is an alternative take on the typical green palm leaf print.
The hemline and neckline can be tweaked and the dress can be turned into a jumpsuit or cheongsam.
Where: Outpost, 02-86 HarbourFront Centre, open from 11am to 9pm daily, tel: 6271-1664; and 01-38 The Star Vista, open from 11am to 9pm daily, tel: 6659-6456
2 Workman Jacket, $280, Inventory
This unlined workman jacket features a spread collar and is made with cotton twill fabric. It has three patch pockets and a hidden pocket.
Clients can choose the pocket style; horn or metal buttons; and fabric ranging from cotton and linen to selvedge and non-selvedge denim.
Where: Inventory, 02-08, 21 Club Street, open Tuesdays to Saturdays from 11am to 7pm, tel: 6208-6200
3 Blossom lace cold-shoulder dress in Salmon, $159, Juillet
This lace dress with polyester lining is among the label’s popular styles. It can be lengthened into a maxi dress with two front slits (additional $24.90) or made with a bustier bodice (additional $19.90). It can also be made into a knee-length pencil skirt (additional $19.90).
4 Wholecut style with medallion toe, $360, CustomMade
This wholecut style – a shoe cut from one piece of leather – is in pale red with a burnished effect. Shoppers can choose from a range of colours and also change the design at the toe area. There is also a choice of a black or brown sole edge. A rubber protection on the full leather sole can be added for $10.
Where: CustomMade’s new showroom will open next month at 02-04, 82 Telok Ayer Street, tel: 8717-0179
Step out in comfort
When it comes to dress shoes, men are hardly spoilt for choice - only limited styles such as Oxfords, derbies and brogues are available.
Pickings are even slimmer for men who, say, have extra wide feet, making it more difficult to find stylish shoes that fit comfortably.
That is where shoe brand CustomMade, founded by Mr Donovan Leow in January last year, comes in.
The shoe label has 25 set designs - including monk-straps and Oxfords - that shoppers can order as is or tweak for the perfect fit. They can also customise the laces, soles, colour and toe caps.
Mr Leow, 27, sells about 20 pairs of such shoes a week, with about 90 per cent of his customers opting to tweak the shoes.
Although the best-selling design is the classic cap-toe Oxfords, about half of his customers go for unusual styles such as monk-straps or full brogues in colours such as burgundy, instead of the classic black or dark brown.
"The bulk of my made-to-measure customers have wide feet and it's hard for them to find shoes in their sizes off the rack here," says Mr Leow, who designs the shoes and has them made in Vietnam.
"Sometimes, they also have bunions on their feet and so want wider shoes."
The label is also a solution for men with flat feet, whose requirements for an orthopaedic insole might not fit into mass-produced shoes, he says.
Most of his customers are working professionals between the ages of 25 and 35 who are looking to "upgrade their style".
The prices of CustomMade shoes range from $330 for a pair of Oxfords to $360 for a pair of brogues. They take four to six weeks to make. Mr Leow, who is single, charges an additional flat rate of $70 for width alterations.
Business has been good, he says, adding that he broke even six months after starting the label and made a six-figure sum last year.
Mr Leow, who started the business from his parents' home, will be moving his business into a 650 sq ft showroom in Telok Ayer Street next month.
He says: "Getting shoes custom- made is about the personalised experience. In about 20 minutes, you can order a good-fitting pair of shoes in the design you want. You don't have to waste time researching and shopping or settling for shoes that you may not really like."
Designed for the customer’s body
Most of home-grown label Outpost’s customers are looking for dresses to complement their pear-shaped figures or arm sleeves that fit properly.
But occasionally, Ms Joanne Ng, the owner of the womenswear brand, encounters more specific needs, such as a shopper in her 50s who wanted to hide a tumour on her tummy.
Unable to buy clothes off the rack and put off by unknowing retail assistants asking her to “lose weight” to fit into the clothes, she turned to Outpost.
There, Ms Ng raised the waistline of the dress to draw the eye away from the customer’s tummy.
“She was very grateful that she could finally come to a place and find something that fits her well,” says Ms Ng, 26. “We don’t pass judgment on a person’s size and how they look – we are quite sensitive to that.”
She also designs dresses for nursing mothers who do not want to sacrifice style for function, by putting zips in the bodices of dresses.
Being able to help customers get what they need is rewarding for Ms Ng, who says her father had disapproved of Outpost as he wanted her to join the family’s dried food distribution business.
Her mother lent her $10,000 to rent a shop at Far East Plaza in 2011. The psychology graduate, who has two older sisters, started by selling womenswear sourced locally and overseas, before producing her own designs soon after, picking up her skills from a dressmaker.
In 2015, she introduced made-to-measure options for her designs and moved out of Far East Plaza, opening two stores – at The Star Vista and HarbourFront Centre.
Outpost is known for its bright print dresses which come with pockets. Only up to two pieces of each design are available for off-the- rack purchases. The rest are produced on a made-to-measure basis as her customers, mainly working professionals in their 30s, “worry about being in the same dress as another (customer)”, says Ms Ng.
Business has been brisk. Sales more than doubled from 2015 to last year and the label chalked up a six-figure revenue last year.
The most popular style, says Ms Ng, is the fit and flare dress with an A-line skirt.
A basic made-to-measure cotton-blend fit and flare dress starts at $99.90. Dresses are made in Hong Kong and cheongsam in Shanghai.
More complicated designs, such as a lace jumpsuit, are made locally and prices start at $200. It takes up to three weeks, on average, to make a dress, inclusive of two fittings.
Despite some customers not understanding the process of made-to- measure and getting upset when their dress does not fit perfectly at the first fitting, Ms Ng, who is single, says it is par for the course.
She says: “I think retail can be demoralising when some customers question the point of made-to-measure clothing and say they can just buy a dress off the rack.”
“So when we have customers who really appreciate the effort that goes behind what we do, it makes me feel that it’s all worth it.”
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 27, 2017, with the headline 'Fashion cut to fit'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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