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Podcast: English Cut

A few days ago James Cherkoff and I met Thomas Mahon, the bespoke tailor behind the English Cutweblog. We met Tom, and his friend & colleague Jonathan Quearney, at his club in Soho.

It was a very interesting chat, and I’ve edited it into a podcast. (Apologies – the sound quality is a little dodgy in places. I had to remove some background noise with Audacity and it makes it a bit weird at times.)

Tom makes a great case study for selling a premium product not by adding mystique and allure – the standard marketing approach – but by telling simpler and humbler stories about what the business is really like. What also comes across is an abundance mentality – reflected in the spirit of a business where people help each other out and where there’s concern for the future of the sector as a whole, not just Tom’s part of it. It’s a refreshing approach to marketing – I hope you enjoy it.

(15m50s 14.4MB MP3)

(15m50s 8.0MB Ogg Vobis)

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Show notes

0.00 Introductions

0.22 Tom tells how the English Cut blog got started. He used to have a standard website. Then in chats with Hugh Macleod, he was told that his casual stories about the business were interesting, and weren’t on any website. Hugh suggested a blog – something Tom had never heard of before. He started in January and response has been “through the roof”.

0.57 Tom: “Its opened up a new market” Many potential customers had been intimidated by Savile Row. What’s been marvellous is the effect of spelling things out about how the system works, giving more people the confidence to stroll in. Simple things like explaining the difference between being measured, and a fitting. “People feel better not dropping a clanger straight away.”

2.19 James asks: is what works, stuff that Tom thought might be quite boring. Yes.

2.28 Johnnie: Marketing of high quality goods used to be about adding mystique… what Tom is doing seems to be the opposite of that. Tom: That is definitely true. People’s taste in a lot of things is going that way. Because of the internet, people are learning more and less easily bowled over.

3.12 Tom tells of a friend who makes watches. His business suffered when quartz watches came out… but now there is a new market for the more traditional product. “I’d rather have something that’s beautiful and loses 5 minutes a week.”

3.41 Tom: It’s the same with clothing. People want the story of the human being attached to the product, and the blog brings that element out.

3.49 James: People are more used to peering inside organisations, the blog allows people to do this.

4.06 Tom talks about the value of comments – no other marketing tool could have done this. He has had comments from 15 year-olds who want his product.

4.38 Jonathan talks about how some tailors try to keep the customer in the dark, but the reverse approach works better

5.07 Tom talks about the value in a bespoke suit. The amount of work involved, the style, the longevity.

5.52 James asks Tom to say more about the different customers he now attracts. Tom gets more of the existing types of customer, and some from a different market. Gives the example of a wealthy customer who found him through the blog.

6.54 Johnnie says some people see transparency as a threat to profitability – that doesn’t seem to be happening here. “You’re selling a premium product, more successfully, with more transparency.” Tom explains that he doesn’t see openness as a threat to making money; he looks for value for money and doesn’t worry that people make a living out of a product.

7.58 James asks about the content Tom puts on the blog site. Tom explains how he put important things on the sidebar, for instance a section, “So you can’t afford bespoke” which recommends Marks and Spencers over Hugo Boss. Then explains differences between ready-to-wear, made-to-measure and bespoke. And the work and skill that goes into bespoke: compare the cost of a roofing contractor doing two days on your roof to the effort to make a bespoke suit.

9.52 Tom also added a who’s who of Savile Row, which people really liked. He talks about some of the differences between different tailors, not in terms of good vs bad but explaining qualitative differences in approaches. Getting beyond just labelling things as brilliant or not. He added an article about the different strengths and weaknesses of different cloths. “So people know, when they buying something special… the reasons they’re buying it for.”

12.02 Tom talks more about Savile Row as a people business. Gives an example of how people help each other out when there are problems. “The business is lovely, we do look after one another, there is plenty to go round.”

12.46 Tom talks about the problems of attracting youngsters into the business, to spend 7 to 10 years learning the craft. The internet lifting the lid, and changing tastes, have created demand… now we need more tailors. The blog is now drawing potential students to the business. Tom talks about the superficial appeal of designer labels, but finds when teaching students that he can make bespoke tailoring sexy.

14.18 James asks Tom to summarise the difference between his blog and a conventional website. Tom: the personality of the author. A slight gossip element? Yes. Tom tells a story of the hierarchy at one of the tailoring firms – where you get a cup; a cup and saucer; a cup saucer and biscuit; or cup, saucer and biscuit on a little white tray – and its stories like this that make the blog interesting.

15.28 Johnnie reflects again on losing mystique in favour of a more interesting reality – and concludes.