MAR 27, 2023
Gladson New York, Huddersfield Fine Worsteds, the Falconer Agency, and MR Magazine are celebrating Women’s History Month by spotlighting talented women designers, tailors, custom clothiers, and stylists making waves in custom clothing in the United States and on London’s Savile Row.
Over the past twenty years, the industry has seen a sizable growth of women entering the menswear custom clothing market and they are doing very well.
Behind every great woman is another great woman in the legendary Dara Lamb, another bespoke tailor in NYC who sits on the board of the CTDA and has been preaching the gospel according to women, empowering them in business to power up in sustainable clothing.
See Dara’s story about her ‘success suit’.
What brought you to tailoring/custom clothing?
Early in my career, I struggled with “imposter syndrome” until wearing the right outfit changed my life.
I had transitioned from fine arts to the male-dominated industry of commercial real estate technology. While rehearsing a presentation, I had a vision of how I needed to look to be taken seriously. It took me a year, many terrible shopping experiences, and two months’ salary to find the striking navy suit I envisioned. That suit built my confidence and everyone else’s confidence in me. Within three months I closed the biggest contract of the year. Soon I was writing and presenting for our IPO.
My “success suit” changed my career path. I thought if wearing the right outfit helped me succeed, I could help other women succeed by offering beautiful, hand-tailored clothing with the service, quality, and long-lasting value men had always come to expect.
Women were getting a raw deal from the apparel industry: treated like second-class citizens with endless time to shop; over-priced, inferior quality; fit designed for “fashion x-ray” bodies with no seam allowance for alterations; limited selection and availability. I wanted to level the playing field, and I believed that if I could help enough women get their seats at the table, we just might change the world for the better.
How would you describe your business?
I am one of the few custom tailors worldwide whose business is dedicated exclusively to women. According to industry sources, prior to the pandemic, there were 20 of us globally. My designs are engineered from the ground up to fit and flatter women’s bodies and move the way women move and stand, which is very different from the way men do. This ensures a level of comfort women rarely experience in tailored clothing.
I built my own production atelier where I function as chief designer/technical designer and chief merchant. I work directly with clients, so I can adapt to changes in their style. Unlike custom tailors whose business is mostly with men, I don’t limit my offering to a women’s version of a typical 2- or 3-button pantsuit. I offer a broad selection of dresses, skirts, tops, knitwear, outerwear, and accessories. My cloth selection includes women’s couture fabrics as well as the finest high-end menswear.
I apply years of systems engineering experience to develop systems that enable me to offer a broad selection with repeatability in quality and fit. My design aesthetic is timeless and classically modern. It blends the best of European style with a quintessential American look that’s easy to wear while allowing clients to develop and maintain their own personal style.
What is the makeup of your clientele?
70 – 80% are senior women in finance, law, real estate, medicine, consulting and/or corporate management.
The rest are high-net worth clients whose active lifestyles require them to dress well – for example, philanthropists and women who travel and entertain clients with their partners.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
It’s a creative outlet for many of my passions: design, working out the geometry of patterns and fit, mentoring, and celebrating my clients’ achievements and the role of their wardrobe in their success.
The made-to-order business model reflects my devotion to sustainability, which has been foundational to the business.
What are the key stressors?
Traumatic events, from 9/11 to several recessions (including the financial crisis) and of course, the pandemic. Perseverance and focusing on my core mission of helping women succeed have gotten me through.
The trap of perfectionism, which can sometimes be the enemy of progress.
Finding and training new talent. It worries me that our industry may disappear.
What distinguishes your business from the competition?
The major difference is our exclusive focus on women. They are not merely a secondary market opportunity. This leads to major differences in our approach and product mix.
In the business class I teach for the Custom Tailors and Designers Association (where I am the only female board member), I stress the need to clearly define the target audience. Every important decision to make your business a success will flow from this.
From an industry perspective, what improvements are needed to make custom more profitable for you? Mills, Merchants, Manufacturing, CMTs, City or Government Agencies, Technological improvements and/or advancements?
Our industry was hit hard during the pandemic. As a board member of the CTDA, and on behalf of our members, I started an advocacy campaign to get the same level of relief as restaurants and theaters. Although we have yet to receive this, I learned a lot about the legislative process.
In addition to private clients, our industry makes uniforms for the armed services, police, and other public servants. We are truly a strategic asset. We can also be an engine for growth and a way up for people whose career path leads to craftsmanship.
Custom clothing is expected to grow geometrically in the next decade. The US and our local economies should be positioned to benefit from this opportunity. Legislators need to support our industry with incentives and grants to retool our factories and our marketing technology to recapture market share.
Now that we have entered a post-pandemic phase of Covid, have you needed to change your fashion models and/or your styling? If so, what’s been working well for you from a fabric, model and/or style perspective?
One difference I’ve noticed in speaking with colleagues who focus primarily or exclusively on men is that women are dressing up on their return to the workforce. Many have advanced their careers during the last three years, and they recognize that their old wardrobes no longer fit who they are as professionals.
Our biggest revenue contributor has been women coming in for entire wardrobe revamps.
What type of training or schooling was required for you to become a tailor and/or a custom clothier?
I started my career when the US, specifically NY, was still a center for fine tailoring. I apprenticed with some of our best European tailors and Italian seamstresses. They were demanding perfectionists with enormous pride in their work. It was truly an honor to work at their side.
If you were to create a vision board that reflects your personal aspirations regarding your career, what might it look like? Goals, Motivators, Quotes, Fashion Influences, Muses, Challenges, Change
St Laurent, Dior, and Charles James are atop the pyramid with numerous couture masters on every level.
If I had one wish, it would be for our industry to generate the same kind of excitement, creativity, and dedication among young people as chefs and the restaurant industry. I’d love to see that youthful energy move our industry forward and ensure its survival. I’d also like to see more women enter the industry and be served by it.