Tell us a little bit about yourself and your cofounder and how you guys came up with the idea for BlackLapel?
Black Lapel came out of a desire to pursue something better. In our case, it was something better and more interesting than our day jobs in finance. We really wanted to create a brand and tangible experience that was impactful. Black Lapel became that outlet for us. We use it to drive innovation in the menswear world but more importantly, its a vehicle to drive self improvement for ourselves and for our entire team. We’re constantly learning new things about men’s custom suiting, about building a business, about e-commerce and designing great user experience online – it’s been an amazing journey these last four years!
What was the process of taking the BlackLapel idea and turning it into an actual business?
We spent almost a whole year in learning mode and ideation before launching the website and taking our first online order. During this time, we learned the in’s and out’s of custom suiting and shirting, we learned how to project manage the launch of a website, we learned about branding, about the legalities of starting a business that involves international trade. We also took a very careful scan of the market and the competition out there, both direct and indirect and chose the areas we wanted to win in – product quality, service and content/education.
Have you both always been interested in men’s fashion and style? How has this evolved after starting BlackLapel?
I haven’t always been that interested in style. I mean nobody likes to look like a slob but this just wasn’t an area I paid much attention to. I’ll shop once or twice a year and pick up some pieces that I thought looked nice. But it was never driven by a desire to articulate a particular style. I was a passive consumer of what the fashion industry fed me. Now that I’ve been doing this for awhile, I’ve come to really love the language of style. I love being able to put a great outfit together and know exactly what it conveys and how it syncs with my person and my agenda on any given day. That language, or rather the vocabulary for the language of style, is what we’re trying to teach our audience on Black Lapel’s style journal, The Compass.
How would you describe your styles?
My style really morphs with my style vocabulary and is constantly evolving. I see inspiration from so many sources, from your traditional fashion publications and menswear blogs to TV shows and even what the rest of the folks in our team are rocking. It really is just like developing your vocabulary. I’ll try a couple of things – sometimes it won’t work – and eventually, I get fluent with it and can form more complex, yet subtly articulated looks.
What fabrics do you use for BlackLapel suits?
We use fabrics sourced from all over the world, including China and Italy, for the exterior fabrics of our suits. One of the suppliers we’ve been working with for years is vertically integrated in all the right ways. They create their designs in Biella, Italy, farm their own sheep in Australia for the wool, and put the raw wool and designs together in mills in Shandong province, China. We test our fabrics carefully for composition but also for hand (how nice it feels) and strength. For the inner lining of our suits, we currently use premium Bemberg lining from Japan which are generally regarded as the best material for luxury suiting lining.
Can you talk us through the construction process of BlackLapel suits?
A Black Lapel suit doesn’t exist until a customer places an order. That’s when our team first reviews the design and customer measurements to make sure nothing looks off. We ask most of our customers, besides the ones that come to our New York showroom, to take their own measurements at home via our video guides and online profile creator. Since our customers aren’t trained tailors, we do take a very close look at those measurements and we often to catch errors here and there. When errors are flagged, we reach out and ask customers to double check. Once an order has been fully reviewed, we’ll start work on it and our tailoring team in Shanghai will hand craft the garment – including cutting the patterns from a bolt of fabric. Everything is expertly created in about 2-3 weeks. It then is reviewed once more by our quality control team and readied for shipment directly to our customers. All together, the process typically takes about 4 weeks but the custom fit and gorgeous hand finished details are always worth the wait.
How do you see the online tailoring business differing from traditional old school tailoring?
In many ways, they are very similar – or rather they should be that way. A tailor should be able to size you up and down but more importantly than just the measurements, a tailor can be your consultant and guide you on what to make and how to build a suiting and shirting wardrobe. Many brands forget this fact following decades of mass-produced standard sizes and worse yet, having designers dictate what is “in style” to you. And this is where our style journal, The Compass comes in. We think its critical to have customers be educated about how to express their own styles. That’s when they can maximize the utility of a custom clothing experience. So where in the past, an old school tailor would have a one on one conversation to impart that knowledge, we’re able to use The Compass to share our knowledge en masse to replicate that experience. The online part (and of course the affordability we offer) also democratizes access to custom tailoring since you can order from us from literally anywhere in the world and not just the tailoring capitals of the world.
What can a gentleman expect from the BlackLapel experience?
Dedicated customer service, a passionate desire to help you look, feel and be your best, and the ensuing flawless fit of our custom garments are the three components of the kind of quality Black Lapel stands behind. You won’t have to search very hard to find reviews online that echo the foregoing themes for Black Lapel.