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Made in Britain

March 5, 2021

Contactless Couture: How The UK Made-To-Measure Sector Is Getting Back To Work

By: Peter Gregory

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Fed up with face masks? Don’t worry — we’re almost there! 

Dressmakers, tailors, bridal shops and couturiers across the UK have had to shut their doors during lockdown, but the end is finally in sight. Scottish clothing shops have now reopened, there’s a good chance that England will open up in April, and Northern Ireland and Wales should follow suit soon.

In this article, we take a look at some of the creative solutions that Britain’s leading tailors and dressmakers have tried out in lockdown. We’ll walk you through some of the practical, low-cost steps you can take if you’re allowed to open, and some of the steps to take if you have to stay closed

When will tailors and dressmakers be allowed to reopen?

Clothes shops and tailors in England can reopen on Monday 12th April. If you’re based in Scotland, you can take appointments right now. Boutiques in Wales & Northern Ireland may have to wait a little longer. 

England’s 12 April date is correct at time of publication (5 March), but it could be delayed — it all depends on our coronavirus figures over the next few weeks. You can find the latest English lockdown information here (clothes shops and tailors fall under ‘Step 2’ of the Government’s reopening plan).

Wales is currently in Alert Level 4 (dressmaking and tailors shops are not allowed to open until Alert Level 3). The Welsh government has given no guidance on when Wales will move to Level 3, but they have promised to review the situation at least every 3 weeks (read the Welsh lockdown rules here). 

In Northern Ireland, tailors must remain closed by law for the time being. Northern Ireland’s temporary lockdown laws expire on 1 April, but they’re planning to review these laws on 18th March. Hopefully we’ll know more by the end of the month. Learn more about NI lockdown rules here

Scotland is currently at lockdown level 3, which, according to the latest guidance on gov.scot, means that “retail businesses [and] close contact services that are delivered from a salon, shop or other static site, such as a home treatment room” can operate. 

What other tailors and dressmakers are doing:

It’s good news for tailors and dressmakers in Scotland, but sadly the majority of British couturiers, dressmakers and tailors are still on pause. If you fall into this category and you’re expected to be ready to reopen or stay closed at the drop of a hat, there are steps you can take to improve your business while you wait. 

The UK’s leading dressmakers (and the tailors of Savile Row) have come up with some inspirational responses to lockdown over the past few months. We’ve compiled everything they’ve done and we’ve grouped it into two sections: 


Advice On Opening Back Up

Many of the businesses we looked at are doing what they can to make the reopening process as painless as possible for their customers, which is always a good idea! 

Halfpenny London proactively called all of their customers within 48 hours of the Government announcing their end-of-lockdown procedures (read more on the Halfpenny site here). Every client got a personal call and a new appointment time

This is something that every bespoke and made-to-measure business can and should do — not only does it show your clients that they’re still in safe hands, but it saves you time in the long run because you can reschedule all of your delayed fittings in one hit. 

Banshee of Savile Row are offering wardrobe planning consultations over Zoom, so that their clients can get excited about what they’ll be wearing “when all this is over”. The talented creative duo behind Banshee already lead the pack when it comes to customer service, providing free alterations for three months after delivery.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by BANSHEE OF SAVILE ROW (@bansheeofsavilerow)

Mens tailors Davies and Son haven’t been able to see any clients face-to-face but that hasn’t stopped them from giving customers something tactile to get excited about. Last summer Davies & Son announced that they would still send out cloth samples to clients who are planning a new suit or jacket. This way, when the doors open again, their customers will already know what they want their new outfit to be made from and the tailors can focus on fit. 

Another simple but effective way to entice clients back to the fitting room is with the promise of some limited-edition PPE! Royal couturier Stewart Parvin got his customers excited about the return to normal by announcing that all clients would walk away with a washable cotton mask. Appointment times have also been rearranged so that there is only one client in the shop at any one time. 

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Stewart Parvin (@stewart_parvin)

At the very least, you should announce your reopening date on social media. No matter how big your business might be, it’s important to show your clients that you’re still up and running, and that you’re ready to follow through on new and existing orders. This is especially important in the bridalwear sector: designers like Phillipa Lepley and Emma Victoria Payne have announced their 12 April reopening dates on Instagram.

Advice For Staying Closed

If rules change and you find you have to stay closed for another few weeks, try not to stress — there are steps you can take to keep your customers engaged (and potentially grow your turnover) while you wait for those doors to open again. 

Within weeks of the first lockdown being announced, the Huntsman team sprung into action with an ambitious customer engagement strategy. Hunter shared photos of the tailoring team’s new work-from-home facilities and even set up a jazz station on Spotify

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Huntsman (@huntsmansavilerow)

Another Savile Row tailor, Dege & Skinner, ran a giveaway competition for its customers, offering a tailored sports coat and hand-cut shirt as prizes. The competition attracted hundreds of entries from loyal customers trapped at home. You can find out more about it on the Dege & Skinner website

If possible, you should also find a way to embrace online retail. Distance selling might not come naturally to many in the bespoke fashion industry, but many designers have come up with some interesting ways to run an online shop while still staying true to the tailor-made nature of their business. 

Most designers and couture boutiques have started selling hand-sewn face masks, and a few designers have even launched a ready-to-wear range (Jenny Packham and Stewart Parvin, for example). 

One of the most interesting responses to the coronavirus lockdown has come from Giles Deacon. This talented couturier hasn’t been able to host any dress fittings lately, however he now sells a range of stylish fashion illustrations through the art department of his website. He also partnered with the British Fashion Council Foundation Fashion Fund for the Covid Crisis to design a limited-edition reusable gift bag which you can see on the John Lewis website here

Stay Safe — We’re Almost Out Of Lockdown

It’s been a painful, frustrating year for everyone in fashion, but it’s been especially difficult for tailors and dressmakers. Bespoke clothing is one of those areas where, sadly, a video conference just isn’t going to cut the mustard. You need to be able to get a close-up, 3D sense of your client’s unique body shape, and your client needs to be able to touch and feel the fabrics you’re working with. 

Just try to stay positive, and above all, keep yourself, your staff and your clients safe. And remember that GB Labels will be ready and waiting to help you with your labels when trade picks up again!

Thanks for reading!

Pete

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