Whenever a discussion takes place amongst sartorially savvy Singaporeans about where to have a suit tailored, the name Kevin Seah always finds its way to the tip of the tongue. It speaks volumes about the business' reputation and place within the industry, and of course, is also an astute reflection of the man himself. In many ways, Kevin Seah is responsible for the emergence of the current wave of young suiting specialists here on our sunny isle.
With rather unconventional beginnings as an apprentice in couture, Seah was one of the first of his generation to move into bespoke tailoring. Now, six years on, he is very much at the forefront of the industry.
We have a candid conversation on everything from suit jackets in summer, the must-have wardrobe staple for every gentleman, and the difference between tailoring on London's Savile Row and, here in Singapore.
Many of our readers will be familiar with your name, but what does Kevin Seah, the business, actually stand for?
First and foremost, we're all about trust and relationships. When customers first step through our doors, many are not initially sure what they want or how to achieve it. But as time goes on, a friendship starts to develop between us. Tailoring is often new to a lot of people, and it's really important to go to someone you trust, who can help guide you through the process every step of the way. If you don't trust the person giving you the advice, then it's a relationship that's not going to work out. We recently celebrated our six year anniversary, titled 'Friendship and Artistry', because that first word truly is the most important.
A lot of people are put off by the idea of wearing a jacket in Singapore's ridiculous heat. What can you as a tailor do to help overcome this problem?
Well, we stock a large array of summer-weight fabrics, and we also tend to recommend using pure wool. It's a natural fabric, so when it's cool it keeps you warm, and when it's warm it keeps you cool.
Of course, it's not just about the fabrics, but the construction of the suit too. We tend to use lightweight canvassing instead of a heavier canvassing, and to make it even more tolerable in warmer weather, we can make the shoulder pads lighter as well as unline the jacket. All these elements in turn will contribute to creating a softer, and less stifling jacket.
What would you say to those who only buy their suits off-the-rack, and hence see no need to set foot into a tailor?
I'd say that you'll never know what a good suit feels like until you've have one tailored! You get what you pay for with the mass market and off-the-rack products. High street stores also don't allow you to enjoy the whole experience of creating a suit either.
And on the contrary, I notice that you really do have the whole experience here.
Yes that's right! Obviously we sell ties and accessories, but we also have a shoeshine bar. On top of that, we also have probably the biggest array of fabrics you can find in Southeast Asia. We have exclusive collaborations with a number of English and Italian mills for our fabrics. Whatever you're looking for, even if it's something particularly special or personalised, you can find it here.
How do you go about securing such exclusive relationships with some of your suppliers?
We attend tradeshows and events such as Pitti Uomo, which is held biannually in Florence, and we get to meet and work with a lot of craftsmen. These makers are all the best in their field. For example, we have our own collections with Albert Thurston (suspenders and braces) and Bresciani (socks).
Fair enough. What would you classify as a staple piece in every gent's wardrobe?
Well, everyone is going to say a navy suit, but honestly with our weather here I would have to say a linen or a hopsack blazer. Let's face it: Most people aren't going to a wear a suit for the whole day, so a lightweight and casual jacket is a lot more versatile and essential, particularly in Singapore's weather.
What would you say is the main difference between the tailoring scene in Singapore and more robust markets around the world?
If you take London as an example, when you enter a shop on Savile Row, you really trust those guys to do what they do best. In Singapore, however, a lot of potential customers will read up beforehand on forums online, where one person's opinion is being reflected to another's. That can be dangerous, because in reality everyone is different, both in terms of body shape and experiences.
This is why we are really focused on education as well — explaining to our customers in as little technical detail as possible the difference between varying cuts and fabrics. This enables them to leave being able to make their own informed decisions.
In terms of educating your customers, is that also a manner in which Kevin Seah differentiates itself from other tailors in Singapore?
Yes, definitely. As we were saying before, the most important aspect is our relationship with our clients. We really make it a point to let people know that we're not all about just selling fabrics. Obviously, the finer the fabric the more expensive it is, but that's not our main motivator — we're more concerned with what the suit is actually going to be used for. In that way, we try and go into as much detail as possible when it comes to getting to know our customers. Everything from their lifestyle to their everyday activities, so we can fully understand how the suit will be worn and hence, which fabrics to recommend.
And that's not always the case in the industry?
There can be the tendency among other tailors to have a lot of fabrics in stock and for them to try and push the ones that they need to sell. We would rather pay extra money to have our fabrics ordered in, especially from Italy or England, for example, rather than having a large amount of cheaper fabrics lying around in stock.
That's where the educational part comes in as well, as some of our clients might not fully know which look to go for, or which fabric to use. It is then up to us to be able to educate them and in return allowing them to understand the process. That's where the trust begins to build and ultimately, a friendship develops.
For all interviews in the series Singaporean Tailors, please click here.