Sometimes the best business ideas can come from answering one simple question. For the three entrepreneurs behind the Dubai-based custom clothing company Knot Standard, it was “Why should you spend more money for an off-the-peg suit that doesn’t fit when you can have a better one hand-made?”
Of course, Tareq Al Shaikh, Matthew Mueller and John Ballay then decided to take it up a notch. Mixing their diverse backgrounds in tech, finance and banking, the trio have given old-school tailoring a 21st Century twist with a one-of-a-kind online measuring service where you can have the perfect suit or shirt made, right from the comfort of your room. All you need is a webcam, a CD or DVD, and an internet connection.
“There is nothing quite as easy or advanced as standing in front of your laptop and having all your measurements automatically populated into the system,” says Al Shaikh, a former banker.
The way it works is simple: once on knotstandard.com, pic the webcam measuring service, follow the instructions, which include holding a CD (because most CDs come in standard size) so online tailors can get a good perspective and you’re done. Just select your design and material preference and your finished suit will be delivered to you in four weeks.
Of course, the website also offers other means including sending in your own measurements, downloading a measure sheet to take to your local tailor and mailing them your favourite suit to replicate.
“Our job is to create pride in our customers, and not just here in the UAE — anywhere you have a webcam or measuring tape and a desire to be the best-dressed man in the room,” says Mueller, who’s into tech start-ups.
The Directory spoke to the trio about fashion, technology and how they plan to further revolutionise tailoring.
Q: How did the idea for Knot Standard come about?
Al Shaikh: For me the idea crept into my mind while I was living in London a few years back. An investment banker at the time, I kept getting complimented on my suits which I had made here in Dubai whenever I’d get the chance to visit home. I would get asked a lot how I could afford a custom suit from Savile Row and would just look back blankly and inform them of the great tailors that we have in Bur Dubai.
Ballay: Knot Standard started as a way to solve a problem, trying to give our friends the ability to attain a custom suit at a price point that would match what they were already paying. What surprised us, was the quick adoption of the solution we provided them, and our ability to provide suits and shirts for roughly 1/3 of the retail price that it would cost in the US or Europe. Everything you see today — from the technology, the style, the brand — is all secondary to the initial quest of finding a way to provide guys a great option for custom suits.
Mueller: As our name says, everything we do is custom — not Standard. If you have a custom suit or shirt, you know the feeling of wearing it for the first time — pride, achievement, freedom, and confidence. Custom clothing is available faster, cheaper, and of a higher quality in emerging markets — anybody in Dubai can attest to this — than anywhere else in the world. The result is that only one per cent of suits in the US are custom, and less than five per cent in the UK/EU — even Dubai is below 10 per cent. Our many customers agree — once you go custom, you’ll never go back.
Q: Why did you launch the webcam measuring service?
Al Shaikh: The webcam service was a natural addition to our company that prides it self in combining technology and retail. The webcam represents in many ways, the ultimate solution to providing our service into different geographies. Despite the ease of the other three options we provide for attaining your measurements, there is nothing quite as easy [or advanced] as standing in front of your laptop and having all your measurements automatically populated into the system. Not only is it incredibly accurate, its very “on brand’’ for what our company stands for.
Mueller: We already had three ways for people to get measured — using our video-based measurement walkthrough, visiting a tailoring partner, or measuring and existing suit. We found that people wanted the “art” taken out measuring, and that making it an automated, technology-based process gave a lot of people the comfort to try their first custom suit. Truthfully, measuring with any of our other techniques is just as accurate, but having all of the calculations done automatically by the computer gives people confidence, and shows just how much more advanced we are over traditional tailors.
Q: Has it been a difficult convincing people the webcam measuring service is not just hype?
Al Shaikh: Not at all. Most people consider the webcam to be fairly unforgiving, and we have spent a lot of time making sure that it delivers on its promise. Once our customers see the instructional videos, they understand that it’s a very solid and well thought-out system.
Q: How does the technology work?
Mueller: The technology is actually fairly new and requires an enormous amount of math and 3D modelling, but the concept is fairly simple. By using a DVD on your navel, we can get a reference point and scale for person. Once we have that scale, we can take measurements off of the webcam image for key points on the body, and build out a 3D model that matches what you look like in the webcam. After that, it’s a simple matter of virtually “measuring” the 3D model on our servers, just as if you were standing in front of the tailor. Voila — measurements without leaving your living room.
Q: You’ve soft-launched the service. How has the reaction been so far?
Ballay: Almost two-thirds of our orders come from North America — it’s a huge market, and a very underserved one. MENA is our second-biggest market, of course, followed by Australia and New Zealand. The reaction from all of these places is one of complete surprise.
Q: How much does the service cost?
Al Shaikh: It’s very inexpensive — our Classic line of Super 120s wool suits start at Dh1,800, and our custom shirts are only Dh300. That price also includes any alterations that may be required, and unlike other custom clothing, are fully guaranteed.
Q: Would you consider yourself stylish? Were you always interested in fashion?
Ballay: Twenty years ago, I can safely say I was the worst-dressed man I knew. A friend of mine at the time pointed out a man wearing a white undershirt and jeans, saying that “he is much more stylish than you”. Ten years ago, I started buying more expensive suits, and proudly went from baggy polos to fitted clothing. If you asked me five years ago, I would have considered myself “just good enough to not stand out in a crowd”. Now, I try not to walk into a room without being the best dressed man there.
Mueller: I’ve always been interested in design, especially graphic design and commercial art, but didn’t bridge the gap into clothing and fashion until I arrived in Dubai. Now, that same passion has driven not just some “Best Dressed” superlatives at the Dubai World Cup, but our entire global fashion brand.
Al Shaikh: As a well dressed Brit I like to think we instinctually know a thing or two about fashion and suits, although having delved deep into the fashion world it’s been a wonderful learning journey for myself and my not-as-badly-dressed-anymore cofounders.
Q: How did the celebrities get involved? How did you get them to wear your suits?
Al Shaikh: Everyone wants to know this — the truth is that we did it with a lot of hustle. We haven’t paid any celebrities, just explained what we are doing, shared our passion, and offered to create a custom suit or jacket in their name. Most people jump at the chance to create their own clothing to fit their personality; the celebrities that we have suited love showing off their style, and nobody lets them do that like Knot Standard does.
Q: How big is the team?
Al Shaikh: We’re a tightly-grouped team of just over a dozen people right now on the business side, and a little over 80 people involved in our tailoring and production efforts.
Q: What future plans for Knot Standard?
Mueller: Creating proud and well-dressed men around the world, one suit at a time. Of course, we’ll be doing that quickly, as we’ll be suiting thousands more men this year alone.
Ballay: Knot Standard will become a fully developed clothing brand. The plan is to keep our core business in custom shirts, jackets, and suits, and we will expand into all the necessary and relevant accessories that come with these items. In the next month, we will offer ties and belts, and we are even exploring a line of shoes for Q4 2013. When we succeed in providing our customer with a great service, they often ask us what else we can provide. We aim to become a one-stop shop for guys to look sharp.
Al Shaikh: The future? That’s easy, our goal is to grow Knot Standard into a $100 (Dh367 million) million brand.
*Get measured up at knotstandard.com