By Maxmilian Wechsler
TAILOR shops are popping up like bean sprouts in Thailand these days. Unfortunately, so too are the number of complaints from people sold on the idea of bespoke clothing. At least that’s the view of Mr Deepak Dangmaneerat, a veteran of the country’s tailoring industry, who has set up a website TruthAboutTailors.com that not only gives tips to potential buyers, but also helps when they encounter problems.
The truth is that some visitors to the kingdom rush into buying tailor-made clothes and end up getting much less than they had bargained for. Behind the glossy tourist magazine advertisements offering incredible deals and the lavishly decorated shops, there is another side to the tailoring trade. And it’s foreigners who are especially prone to bad business practices since they are rarely here long enough to sort out problems if they aren’t happy with the finished product.
“You can see them standing on the footpaths hustling foreigners passing by. They feign politeness, but of course have only one objective – to get people inside their shops.
“The usual procedure then is to make a quick assessment of the customer in order to establish how far they can go. This is done by asking questions like whether the person is on holiday or lives in Thailand, how often they visit, where they are staying, and when are they leaving the country.
“If the clothes are delivered to the hotel shortly before the customer is due to fly out of the country, he or she has no time to make the necessary alterations.
“They also deceive customers by selling them inferior fabrics they claim are expensive imports from Europe.
“A few cheats can spoil the reputation of Thai tailors. Happily, most are honest business people who care about their reputation. They want customers to come back and recommend the shop to their friends,” he added.
Deepak said the tailoring business first began in Thailand during the 1800s when trade ships brought fabrics along with spices and other goods from India to Thailand. However, it was not until the American military arrived here in the late 1960s that it really took off.
Deepak’s family migrated from India to Thailand in 1964. His father opened a tailor shop in Banchang in 1969 catering mainly to US servicemen stationed in the region during the Vietnam War. After the Americans left in the mid-1970s, his father opened Maharaja Tailors on Beach Road in Pattaya. It was one of the resort’s first tailor shops. When his father retired, Deepak’s older brother took over the shop and continues to run it to this day.
“To open a tailor shop is easy but to acquire the expertise needed to be a tailor is not. You don’t need much money to start out because you get fabric on credit. You can send the clothes to many places for cutting and sewing. You can start the business immediately providing you pay the rent,” explained Deepak.
“The business survives despite many department stores selling ready-made name brand clothing. Many people don’t fit into the standard sizes made by the factories, or like to have something unique, so they go to a tailor shop. There’s still plenty of business for tailor shops and this won’t change,” he said.
“Besides usual questions like, ‘Where can I get good quality suits or neck ties or shirts made?’, the most common inquiry I receive nowadays is from foreigners wanting information on how to start a business in their own countries to sell tailored clothes made in Thailand.
“Many foreigners are now ordering clothes from Thai tailors to sell in their home countries. This is a new trend.
“They have samples of fabrics, take the measurements of their customers and later place the orders here. When finished, the clothes are shipped overseas. Custom-made suits from Thailand are much cheaper than ones made in Europe, so even after paying for the shipping there is still room for profit.
“Initially, they have to learn not only how to take measurements, but also how to make alterations to fix small problems. They could return an item to the shop here, but it is much better if they can do it themselves.”
“In my experience, people complain not so much about the quality, but things like not getting their suits delivered after paying a deposit, or the tailor is unwilling to make alterations or provide a new item if what they have received is beyond alteration.
“In Pattaya, a frequent scam was for the tailor to tell the customer to pick up his or her order on the same day they were due to leave the country, only to discover the shop was closed on that particular day.
“I have also had complaints about credit card fraud, when the shopkeeper swipes the card more than once and the customer gets billed for things they never ordered and never received.”
New hotels are popular with tailor shop operators. “It is very lucrative to open a tailor shop inside a hotel as it is easy to target customers staying there,” says Deepak. “They might be slightly more expensive, but they are generally more reliable.
“Tailoring in Thailand is done not only by Thais and Indians but also by Pakistanis, Nepalese, Bangladeshis and Bhutanese. We have so many different people doing this business, so it is very difficult to get them to form an association or union.”
What advice does Deepak have for first-time buyers? “Select several tailor shops close to your hotel, visit and talk to them, just to get a feeling or impression. Search Google for comments. You can also judge the shop from the photos of customers displayed inside.
The longer the shop has been there, the better the chances that it’s reliable. So ask how long they have been in business. You should also examine work displayed in the shop – the lining of a jacket, the stitching and button holes, how the sleeves are attached. There should be no loose threads and there shouldn’t be too many wrinkles on the sleeves.”
Attractive package deals for suits, shirts and ties “for only US$199” are quite common, but Deepak has a warning. “It can be done for that price, but it might not be good work.
It’s a gimmick to bring in customers. For instance, for that price you will be offered a totally unsuitable fabric or colour. So if you want something different, it will cost more.”
Is it possible to make a good quality suit within 24 hours? “It is possible, but most probably you won’t get many fittings. I wouldn’t like to guarantee the result, and would suggest giving the process at least one week, with three fittings.
“Many online tailors work without fittings. They have website tutorials to show the customer how to take measurements. You can choose the material from the pictures and descriptions on the site as well, but you can’t feel the fabric, of course. The idea is to reduce the number of fittings or eliminate them entirely, and it can work. However, a lot of bad things are happening with online tailoring.
Deepak gets a lot of inquiries about wedding dresses. “I usually recommend one shop in Pattaya, which is very good, and also does other types of dresses. Some tailor shops in Hua Hin have dresses made for their customers in this same shop. Likewise, some Pattaya tailors have their men’s suits cut in Bangkok.
“In the past, tailors did all the work in their own shops, but nowadays more and more are using outside factories. Sometimes one factory serves up to 20 tailor shops. Tailors that make their cut and make their own clothes are very few nowadays.
“Most fabrics now come from China or Japan. You can still buy materials from England or Italy but these are very expensive, maybe over 1,000 baht per yard in wholesale prices. You can get Hugo Boss and other famous brand names. But not every tailor can stitch such expensive fabrics because they are very delicate and if they’re not stitched properly they will start to wrinkle.”
For many, tailoring has proved extremely lucrative and provided the financial means to go into other businesses, especially property.
He said the profit on a single suit depends on the tailor. “I visited one tailor who runs a famous shop that’s been around for 30 years to see how he works. He is a member of an international federation of tailors. I picked up a good piece of fabric and asked the price for a suit made from it. He said 60,000 baht. I knew this was way too expensive. He still makes his suits himself. Allowing for overheads of the shop, I estimate that his total cost would be about 10,000 baht, so the suit should cost 20,000 – 25,000 baht at most. He obviously thinks his labor is worth a lot more.
“Tailoring in Thailand has at the same time a good and a bad image. It depends on the experiences that individual customers have. There are a lot of scams and cheating in Thailand, but the same is true elsewhere,” concluded Mr Deepak.