Enter an old-school haberdashery or a high-end showroom, and you’ll see bolts of fabric stacked on shelves or sampled in swatch books arranged like a miniature library. This is the raw stuff that becomes a made-to-measure sport coat or a bespoke suit, and in virtually all cases you’re buying it from the house, which in turn purchased it from a mill.
Considering the inevitable mark-ups involved, it’s fair to ask why our increasingly direct-to-consumer society hasn’t caught up to the tailoring world. And aside from the possible savings, wouldn’t finding your own fabric present near-boundless choices?
However, there are good reasons for the status quo. For starters, many mills that do sell directly to clients require potential customers to register before making a purchase (an exception can be found in Huddersfield Fine Worsteds, which sells its bunches directly online). Perhaps more importantly, purchasing fabric directly runs the risk of receiving too little material to make the intended garment (or too much), or in the case of less reputable third-party sellers, winding up with wares that could be damaged or suspect.
“All too often, by purchasing from a secondary source a customer runs the risk of being sold an inferior or even counterfeit length of cloth,” says Paolo Martorano, founder of the eponymous NYC bespoke tailoring house. “On the other hand, tailors—the trade—will reliably receive only top-quality fabric from a mill.”
Martorano adds that it’s exceptionally rare for him to work with cloth provided by a client, and in the cases that he does, it’s usually a client that possesses a high level of tailoring experience and knowledge.
“The client who elects to buy his own fabric is missing a great opportunity to actually learn about the cloth from their tailor; about what to realistically expect from it, how to best care for it, et cetera,” he warns.
But for all the potential pitfalls, there’s still something enticing about bringing your own bunch to a tailor. And thanks to new initiatives from a reputable retailer and an established mill, there may be more opportunities to smartly source fabric than ever before.
The first example comes from The Armoury, which earlier this season opened up its “cloth archive” for the first time in the shop’s 11-year history. “A lot of our regulars, especially those who cut their teeth on tailoring with us, wanted access to cloth that was more unusual than what we could normally offer through our cloth suppliers,” Armoury co-founder Mark Cho tells Robb Report.
Among the assortment, which includes choices as diverse as white cricket flannels and a blue Prince of Wales check from Fox Brothers, are deadstock bolts sourced from now-defunct mills. “These vintage bolts, in particular, are some of our favorites as they can never be recreated in their original form,” Cho says.
Afterward, customers can choose to keep it in-house and have the fabric tailored into any of The Armoury’s many house suit or sport coat models, or even more casual garments like the shop’s City Hunter Jacket or Safari Jacket II. As Cho says, there’s “nothing quite like a safari jacket made for you today using cloth from thirty years ago.”
Perhaps no mill has democratized the fabric-selling process as much as Fox Brothers, which has been spinning yarn in Somerset for close to 250 years. In 2011, the mill began selling cloth (and readymade items) directly to consumers with the launch of Merchant Fox. Through it, Fox Brothers vends a large selection of current and vintage fabric in addition to small runs of “special edition cloth” that debut weekly.
“We have some loyal friends of Fox who buy special editions and lay them down like a fine wine for future use,” says Fox Brothers managing director Douglas Cordeaux.
To cater to this specific, tuned-in demographic, Fox Brothers will listen to requests for specific weights, patterns and colors, and then produce cloths in limited runs that are made for as few as five customers. And in January, the company plans to launch a Fox Cloth Club where members will suggest ideas for cloth in a forum before receiving yarn samples and eventually the finished fabric.
Something that all parties seem to agree on is that fabric sourcing should be left to those already deep into the tailoring game, not fresh clients looking to place their first commission. But once your own closet begins looking full, you may realize that the real adventure is just getting started.