Two Australian National University graduates Sanchit Baweja and Yashas Alur have taken on major player Institchu, and launched their own online store for customisable, tailor-made men’s suits. Their point-of-difference? Quality. And when buying with your instincts online, guaranteed quality matters.
Launched in September, Buttons ‘n’ Threads offers high quality, tailor-made men’s suits at a fraction of the retail cost. Customers can modify over 20 details of their suits “to make it truly personal”.
“From buttons to vents and working buttonholes to pick stitching, all customisations are included in the price and our customers don’t have to choose customisations while looking at their bank accounts, relative to some of our competitors who charge for almost all customisations,” says Alur, Co-Founder of Buttons ‘n’ Threads.
But Buttons ‘n’ Threads is not just about delivering quality products. The company aims to educate customers about the many facets of custom-tailored suiting – fabrics, material sources, fit and personal style.
“It’s not just the suit we are selling, it’s the experience. At Buttons ‘n’ Threads we want to offer the best possible suit, combining fine fabrics and experienced tailoring to deliver the perfect fit,” says Alur.
The idea for the business came about when the Co-Founders were completing their undergraduate degrees in finance and economics at Canberra’s Australian National University. As students with insufficient funds to invest in high-quality suits, Alur and Baweja would be left with no choice but to attend formal events wearing the only ill-fitting suits they had in their closets.
“It was just too difficult to find a great fitting suit, that didn’t cost a lot of money,” says Alur.
But as graduation neared, they realised they needed new suits so they could celebrate the milestone looking flawless. Rather than looking at off-the-rack items in bricks and mortar stores, they decided to send materials and body measurements to tailors in India. Within three weeks, to their pleasant surprise, they were delivered with perfectly-fitting suits.
“No alterations needed to be made, and this got us thinking about how we could enable others to do the same without experiencing friction throughout the process,” says Alur.
However, when they conducted market research, they realised there were other players in the market with a similar offering.
“But their prices don’t match the quality of their products. So we travelled to Singapore and Hong Kong, talked to different suppliers, and learned more about fabrics and pricing, until we knew how we could differentiate ourselves,” says Alur.
Buttons ‘n’ Threads only uses Italian and English fabrics sourced from Huddersfield and Gladsons mills – known for being some of the finest in the world – and woven using 100 percent Australian Merino wool.
“Our fabrics are consistent irrespective of the design, and the thread count varies between Super 120’s to Super 130’s, which signifies the lightness and the durability of the fabric, whereas our competitors in Australia and globally use polyester and other wool blends which are not ideal for constructing suits,” says Alur.
Alur adds that the best of suits are known for their breathability.
“We only use acetate viscose or Bemberg cupro lining as they offer the greatest comfort, and make the garments wearable all year round,” he says.
Once an order is placed, tailors in India with over 20 years of experience hand-stitch the suit to the very last detail.
“We’ve noticed that a lot of our competitors outsource to mass production factories which doesn’t work best for custom tailoring. Our facilities are tailored for custom suiting which ensures that the fine details are never overlooked,” says Alur.
He adds that this process is also more cost-effective than building a manufacturing unit.
“There’s still machinery involved, such as irons. But by outsourcing the production to a tailoring company in India, we can be more flexible with our pricing, rather than upgrading our prices to cover the cost of mass manufacturing machinery,” says Alur.
Ordering a suit through Buttons ‘n’ Threads, for the first time, is a simple 30-minute process: log on, choose from a collection of 15 suits, customise, add to cart and checkout.
The site guides the customer through the process of customisation; and once completed, 14 measurements have to be provided to ensure perfect fit. While the number of measurements may appear excessive, a video guide is provided to makes the process simple. The measurements are then stored on the site’s database, so the next purchase will take 15 minutes or less.
“We’ve researched through customer feedback and beta testing to ensure that we provide the easiest possible navigation for our customers to customise, measure and checkout seamlessly. For us, it’s about the experience than just the sale of a suit,” says Alur.
Alur says it was important for them to remove barriers to entry through affordable pricing, free delivery, easy alterations and return policies.
Buttons ‘n’ Threads offers two-piece suits priced at $499, and three-piece suits at $549. They also offer tuxedos priced at $599. Shipping is free worldwide irrespective of the purchase amount, and deliveries are made within three weeks of the order. They also provide $75 in alteration credit to be used locally for every purchase if the fit is anything but perfect.
In the case where local tailors feel the suits are unfixable, Buttons ‘n’ Threads will re-make the suit, no questions asked.
“We take the extra step to ensure that the fit is perfect; and until then we won’t be satisfied. If in the rare case both these options are not feasible for the buyer we happily offer a complete refund,” says Alur.
They plan on selling a minimum of 30 suits every month for the next year, and more during University graduation period. However, they’re not only targeting soon-to-be graduates, but any male between the age of 21 and 35 who can’t afford to spend $2000 on a custom-tailored suit.
Another important element of their business model is transparency. On the site, they list the cost of fabrics, labour and transportation – so the customer can see the exact mark-up.
“This also allows the customer to compare our mark-up to other retailers. It’s one of the ways we try to demonstrate that we’re focused on product quality and customer service, rather than generating margins,” says Alur.
But how will they make money? Alur says they’re following in the footsteps of Facebook.
“They were very user-friendly at the beginning and once they had a loyal user-base, they created a revenue model. We want to do the same – give the users the best experience and then implement a profit model. Once we have enough funding, whether through external or internal investment, we will scale the business,” he adds.
There were two main challenges for the Buttons ‘n’ Threads Co-Founders – building the website with no prior technical experience and partnering with suppliers when no promises could be made on supply quantities.
“It wasn’t easy communicating with web developers because they had a different idea to what we had in mind. It was really important to us to ensure the site is fast and user-friendly, so getting it right took longer than we’d forecasted,” says Alur.
“The other thing we noticed was that suppliers aren’t really comfortable partnering with startups. We have a monthly goal of selling 30 suits, but we couldn’t guarantee that number to suppliers. Eventually we did find the right supplier who’s willing to adapt to the way we wanted to operate.”
Despite the hurdles, they’ve met their sales goals for September and October, and customer feedback has been very positive.
“We’ve had great reviews, so the best feeling has been knowing that our customers are satisfied with our offering. It really helped us validate our idea,” says Alur.
Over the next year, they will be adding more suit patterns and extending their accessory range. They also plan on introducing pop-up stores across major cities in Australia.
For more information, visit www.buttonsnthreads.com.