Let’s Talk About Fabric

Not All Wool is the Same

This may sound obvious to most but to many people this appears to be a hard concept to grasp. Whilst I get many emails from customers expressing their surprise at the high quality of their suit fabric for the price I occasionally get an email from a customer saying that the fabric in one of their existing suits is a better quality.

A little investigating finds out that their other suit cost anywhere up to $1,000 and they paid $300 for their suit from us. While I think that the fabric in our suits represents excellent value and in many cases is better that the fabrics I see in suits selling in stores for much higher prices, I would hope that the fabric in a suit I paid say $800 for is a better quality that a suit selling for less than half that.

Before a bale of wool reaches auction the quality of the wool is graded. The higher the grade the higher price it will fetch. While the fineness of the wool in a major factor in determining the grade other qualities such as length, colour and appearance determine the end use and value of wool.

Some wool manufactures have spent years developing the quality of their wool.  Ongoing breeding of the sheep, making sure they have the right conditions including plentiful food and water so the produce a high quality fine wool. These sheep farms attract a premium price based on the reputation of their brand alone. A perfect example is Ausfine Wool. A few years ago wool was selling for around $2,000 a bale yet a single bale of Ausfine wool was sold for $247,000. Clothmakers see the Ausfine stamp as a mark of the finest quality wool and will pay far more than the average price.

“S” Numbers are Mostly Meaningless

 A “S”number relates to the thickness of the wool measured in microns. The thinner the wool the higher the “s”number. In a perfect world this would indicate a the quality of the wool and make selecting a high grade fabric much easier.

Alas, it’s not a perfect world and in many cases the “s”number actually confuses the issue. Just because a wool is thin doesn’t mean it’s good quality. It’s tells you nothing else about the wool. Length, strength, colour, and crimp are also important, with the first two particularly so. Length is critical because the longer the fibre, the stronger the yarn that can be spun from it. Strength is critical because the yarn must be twisted very tightly (hence the name high-twist fabric) to achieve a fine weave. The way in which the fabric is finished also plays an enormous role in the feel and look of a suit.

Happy Sheep Produce Better Wool.

Very few people would argue that Australia produces the world’s best suiting wool. Fine Australian merino wool is eagerly sought by the worlds best clothmakers.

Not so long ago Australia was in the grip of a prolonged drought. It was so bad that some towns and cities were in danger of running out of water including some of the biggest wool producing areas. This meant that the water the sheep normally consumed was no longer available, the grass no longer grew and some wool producers had to resort to buying food to keep the sheep fed, Furthermore the food lacked the normal moisture content the sheep were used to.

This led to the sheep becoming stressed and producing a thinner fleece. Unfortunately, while the wool may have been thinner, thus giving it a higher “s”number, it also lacked a number of other factors that go into making a high quality wool. It was coarser, shorter and more brittle thus more prone to breaking. There was also a lack of “crimp” which gives the wool a natural waviness and adds to its resilience. Furthermore, the natural oils in the fleece weren’t as prevalent.

 A few years ago the rains finally returned. The grass grew and the sheep had a good supply of natural food and water. More contented, they grew a thicker and more luxurious fleece which, although being thicker thus a lower “s”number was far higher quality.

To complicate the debate on “s” numbers even further, many wool manufacturers now use “s” more  as a marketing tool rather than an indication of the quality of the wool. Some of the ratings claimed are becoming outrageous and I’m sure that they find the thinnest strand of wool in the bale and measure that as a basis of their claimed “s”number.

I have a number of suits made from wool rated at s150’s and higher. I also have some Holland & Sherry fabrics suits where the wool is rated at s120’s or less. There is no comparison. The Holland & Sherry suits are lighter, drape better, are cooler to wear on warmer days, hold their shape better, and feel much better than their higher rated counterparts. As soon as you put on the suit you can feel the difference.

Good Quality Wool Costs More Than Poor Quality Wool.

I know that would be obvious to most of us but I can’t tell you how many times I get emails from customers about the price difference between our suit ranges. No matter how detailed an email I send them explaining that the price reflects the quality of the wool being used many of them fail to understand why a suit made from better quality wool costs more than one made from a lesser quality.

Our tailors don’t charge us more to make a suit from better wool. The tailoring fee is exactly the same. However, the wool we use to make our Milan suits cost more than five time the price as the wool in our cheapest all wool suit. Why? Because it’s a far higher quality for all the reasons mentioned above although the claimed “s”rating of the Milan wool is actually lower than the cheaper alternative which illustrates the point I made earlier about the use of “s”numbers

But It’s Actually Cheaper in the Long Run.

There is nothing wrong with buying an inexpensive suit especially when your dealing with a retailer for the first time. Our business is growing because we get repeat orders from our customer base. Once they see the quality we can deliver for the price they come back time and time again. However, one thing I try to convince customer to do when they order a second time is to buy a better suit than their first purchase.

Filling you wardrobe with suits at the cheaper end is false economy. Sure it’s cheaper to buy the suits but over time you will end up buying a lot more of them. The lesser quality of the wool the more wear and tear it will show, the quicker it will start to deteriorate and begin to lose it’s shape and the less actual wear time you will get out of it.

A fused canvas suit made from lesser quality wool will start to wear out from the first time you put it on and will need to be replaced frequently. A properly tailored full canvas suit made from a high quality wool will actually begin to look better as the canvas forms around the body with wear and the wool “slips”into shape with the suit. They will look better and last far longer than a cheaply made suit.

Vintage suits were not slapped together by machines in a factory using a fused canvas and cheap poor quality wool. They were made by hand, fully canvassed and made from a high quality wool from one of the worlds great clothmakers.

This is why our Bespoke Quality Wool suits are proving popular among discerning suitbuyers. Stitched completely by hand around a high quality full canvas with wool sourced form some of the best mills in the world these are the vintage suits of the future. Treat these suits with the respect they deserve and they will last for decades and you be able to wear it for as long as you are able to fit into it and still look as good as the day you first wore it. While more expensive than our standard suits these are actually the best value for money suits we sell.

We Source Our Own Fabrics.

The majority of suit retailers today, both online and in-store,  are nothing more than fronts for the big suit factories. They outsource all their work to the factories who provide everything including the fabric. So the retailer is nothing more than an order taker who then simply passes the order onto a factory who do everything else.  However, like everything else the factories compete for business mostly on price. Whoever can make the cheapest suit gets the business as the retailer then makes a higher profit.

There is only so much you can do to reduce your tailoring fee. Automation in using machines instead of people cuts labour costs but when competitors also uses machines that advantage disappears. So they way to make the cheapest suit is to use the cheapest fabric. So the customer ends up with a poor quality suit slapped together by machines around a fused canvas with the cheapest poorest quality wool the factory could find and the retailer or distributor pockets a bigger profit.

At Elite Suits we knew we could do it better. While we do offer two machine made suits at the bargain end, the rest of our suits are made by hand at either small boutique factories owned and operated by real tailors who produce quality suits for the high end department stores or independent skilled and experienced tailors who hand make their own suits in their own workshops. We even offer full hand stitching by specialist bespoke tailors who only make suits under contract for bespoke tailoring houses all over the world. Our suits either come with a full canvas as standard or as an option for an extra charge.

Most importantly, we buy our own wool independent of the tailor. When we make a suit we send the order along with the fabric (and with our higher end suits the lining and buttons) to the tailor who charges us a tailoring fee to make the suit. As we use actual tailors to make our suits in many cases the tailoring fee alone is more than others pay their factories for the completed suit including the fabric.

This way we have total control over the quality of the fabric used to make our customers suit. We have relationships with some great fabric merchants in both Asia and Europe including one based in Yorkshire in the UK who sources us quality fabrics from the mills in Huddersfield and Bradford which are considered the home of fine suiting wool. We buy the wool from him and import it ourselves so we can be sure that we are offering the highest quality to our customers.

The strange thing is that in most cases our prices are actually lower than our competitors who simply take an order and send it to the factory.

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