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EDITIONS
Monday, 3 June, 2002, 09:30 GMT 10:30 UK
Hong Kong's travelling tailor
Raja Daswani
Mr Daswani sells 1,000 suits a week to the UK

Next time you feel like moaning about your commute to work, spare a thought for Raja Daswani.

His tailoring business is in Hong Kong, but most of his clients are 6,000 miles away in Britain.

As a result, he shuttles continually between the two, filling his order book in the UK, and dashing back to Asia to oversee production.

"It's a pretty exhausting routine," he sighs.

But lucrative, too: Mr Daswani won't talk figures, but he is seeing 70-80 customers a day on his current three-week visit, and claims to sell 1,000 suits to the British market every week.

Going global

Wittingly or not, Mr Daswani has made a leap of faith, realising that the broad brush of globalisation can even be applied to a business as intimate and personal as tailoring.

Hong Kong
Mr Daswani's core market waned after 1997
When he took over the family firm at the age of 18, it was indistinguishable from hundreds of other companies, turning out mainly Western formalwear, largely for the large European expat community.

"But in 1997 [when Hong Kong was handed back to China], many of our clients started leaving, so we felt we had to chase after them," Mr Daswani says.

His firm had always paid an annual visit to London; after 1997, those trips became more and more frequent - to the point that they now make up the bulk of his working life.

Cheap and cheerful

The economics behind the business are straightforward.


People want to look smart, but they are more conscious of their budgets than they used to be... That's where we come in

Raja Daswani
Mr Daswani makes his suits in Hong Kong and mainland China, where a skilled tailor can be employed for about 100 a month - something like 5% of the equivalent cost in London.

He and his entourage base themselves in a hotel suite, avoiding the expense and hassle of setting up a UK-registered business.

Marketing costs are growing - Mr Daswani has recently graduated from cheap classifieds to full-page ads in national newspapers.

But even so, a handmade suit starts from about 200, one-quarter of the price you would pay on Savile Row.

Stitched up

Even more luckily, Mr Daswani's main competitors - the venerable names of Savile Row and Jermyn Street - seem oddly hamstrung.

Fast Show tailors
Traditional tailors could listen more to their clients
Quite apart from price, Mr Daswani says, they have a lot to learn about customer satisfaction.

"They try to tell the customer what to wear," he says.

"But we'll make anything you want, any way you want; we're not proud."

Mr Daswani's more democratic approach, he feels, has helped bring made-to-measure tailoring to a wider audience.

City boys and politicians - including, it is rumoured, Tony Blair - still make up the bulk of his clientele, but a growing percentage are twentysomethings on moderate incomes.

Suits you

This is a sign, Mr Daswani says, that smart office wear is enjoying a revival.

City gents in bowler hats
Formal officewear is making a major comeback
"A few years ago, everyone was getting casual, but things have definitely changed.

"At the same time, though, not everyone wants to spend that much money: people want to look smart, but they are more conscious of their budgets than they used to be.

"That's where we come in."

Time for a change

Belatedly, Savile Row is learning its lesson.

Prices for tailored businesswear have plummeted over the past couple of years, with a handmade shirt now available for as little as 25 - about one-third of the price in the 1990s.

Savile Row
Now in stock: the 25 tailored shirt
Although reluctant to relinquish their reputation for exquisite craftsmanship, some of the big names have started to outsource production to Eastern Europe, source of many garments for mass-markets retailers such as Marks & Spencer.

Raja Fashions is changing, too.

Mr Daswani is considering opening his first store in London, more as a showcase for his wares than as a way of shifting vast quantities of stock.

The firm's tour schedule is growing to take in some international dates, and the internet site is being boosted to facilitate online sales.

And as the business grows, Mr Daswani, who so far has waited personally on almost every client, is planning to pull back, spending more time in Hong Kong and thinking about strategy, rather than stitching.

And catching up on some sleep too, no doubt.

See also:

11 Apr 02 | Business
15 Mar 02 | UK
11 Mar 02 | Business
22 Feb 02 | Business
19 Feb 02 | Business
12 Aug 01 | Business
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