Sh350,000 suit, anyone? This tailor will dress you up
By Wainaina Wambu | October 5th 2021
The men who call Brian Kisimba their personal tailor don’t gasp at the price tag that comes with his bespoke suits. For them, Sh350,000 a piece is a small price to pay for their personal style.
Kisimba runs Caliber Bespoke, a tailoring house rooted in the tradition of Savile Row. The street in Mayfair, central London, is principally known for its traditional bespoke tailoring for men.
“We are very cheap, actually. Our starting price is Sh350,000... we have fabrics that go for at least Sh1.4 million, and there are some that you can cost you more than Sh2 million,” Kisimba tells Financial Standard from his trendy office at The Werks in Nairobi’s Lavington.
On this day, he is wearing a well-cut lazuli blue bespoke suit with invisible stripes that goes for £5,672 (Sh845,000). Its fabric, he says, weighs 260 grams, ideal for Kenya’s tropical weather.
Kisimba cuts the image of a debonair Englishman with his dapper suit, designer eyeglasses and refined British accent, which he acquired during his stay in the UK to learn his craft.
With the casual mentioning of the price tags of his suits, it’s hard to know whether he’s overreaching. But then again, Savile Row standards are not for the man on the street. ?
As the “head cutter” at Caliber Bespoke, Kisimba anchors his business on the standards of bespoke tailors of handmade suits in places like London’s Savile Row, Naples in Italy or New York’s 510 Madison Avenue.
For this interview, he immaculately lays out a catalogue of superior imported fabric and buttons on a large table in his office. On one side are the expressive Italian fabrics and on the other, fine English fabrics. Kisimba says a book is judged by its cover, and the rich are very particular about their tastes.
“A suit is more than an assembly of clothes; it’s a marker of identity. It says who you are and what your values are without you having to describe it yourself,” he says.
Kisimba’s love for a well-cut suit started while studying at Strathmore. He immersed himself in the study of menswear, the evolution of style over the years, presentation and how this affects the overall perception and delivery of one’s message.
However, his moment of truth was when he travelled to London - the global capital of menswear and visited Savile Row. The street has renowned Bespoke sartorial houses that have been in operation for years, such as Huntsman & Sons.
“It was what I’d been looking for all my entire life, the ambience of the street and the way people carried out themselves,” says Kisimba.
He later engaged Maurice Sedwell, one of the finest sartorial houses located on 19 Savile Row. Run by master tailor Andrew Ramroop, some of their clientele includes Britain’s royal family and are also behind the prestigious Savile Row Academy, which imparts the bespoke tailoring craft.
Here, Kisimba began his apprenticeship. “It was about mastering the craft and turning it into a business. When I returned to Kenya, I could only think about executing it,” he recalls.
He said while in London, he met African shoppers, which inspired him to set up shop in Kenya to cater for such clients.
“The biggest hurdle was convincing people that the product would match the quality they were getting abroad,” says Kisimba.
He says he got referrals from Saville Row in the wake of Covid-19, with people around the world unable to travel due to travel restrictions among countries.
The commercialisation of the suit has seen the art of bespoke tailoring slowly wither over the years, with people now buying them off the rack in stores. They are ready to wear and made for the mass market.
A bespoke suit – precise in details such as the stitching and the use of luxurious fabrics – is customised to a client’s measurements and their body type.
“Individuals, especially the wealthy, want a garment synonymous with their identities, which describes who they are, their values and is meticulously made such that the wearer doesn’t have to pronounce themself.”
Kenya’s super-rich like former Attorney General Charles Njonjo are famed for having their suits tailored in London.
Others like the late billionaire industrialist Chris Kirubi wore Brioni suits that cost even Sh1 million, with the Italian fashion house’s master tailor having his measurements.
Bespoke tailoring more than feeds the male vanities of the super-rich.
The epitome of success is seen in their ability to fly to Savile Row to get their fittings done by knighted tailors.
The age bracket of Kisimba’s clients ranges between 30 and 80 years – leaning heavily on the over 50s.
These are individuals with taste and who are well exposed and travelled. They are a mixture of old and new money. They aren’t looking for something trendy, but one that has a personal touch. “They understand what they are paying for, and so it’s not a hard sell for them,” says Kisimba.
Pre-Covid-19, Kisimba had rented out a big space for his services but had to scale down when the pandemic struck as the number of clients went down.
He says most of his clients also prefer personal visits to their offices or homes.
In a month, Kisimba makes about three suits. He insists that it is not so much about the number of clients but the value they bring to the business, adding that he counts President Uhuru Kenyatta among those he has served in the past.
“I don’t advertise in our clients’ names. I don’t use them as props for our business,” says Kisimba.
A majority of his clients, he adds, include C-suite executives, institution heads, investment bankers and board executives. Others are high flying businessmen.
He says he doesn’t like working with politicians, who in his books, are the biggest defaulters.
Kisimba also does not rely on social media to market his business but does things the old fashion way, including sending out sealed hand-signed letters to clients.
“We are not on Instagram or active social media because our main client base isn’t there,” he says.
He says the identity of his house is mainly English, although he is able to pull off that occasional Italian cut.
Italian suits (Neapolitan) are more expressive and have more exaggerated shoulders and more nipped waist.
Kisimba’s suits are adapted from the Thompson cutting system, with his style having generous lapels, a subtly tapered waist, which he says is meant to achieves comfort without compromising on the fit.
As the interview progresses, he shows off one of his most expensive fabrics - the legacy select by Georgia Gullini, made in Italy.
A full suit from this fabric will set one back Sh1.4 million. It can cost an extra 30 per cent if you want it personalised or detailed like Njonjo’s suits, which have his initials in the pinstripes.
Digital lenders cut credit to Kenyans after CBK directive
- Demand for electricity hits record high
- Why you should register your small business with government
- Fuel prices may rise as oil import bill doubles in nine months
- President Uhuru Kenyatta: How I plan to reduce fuel prices
SHIPPING & LOGISTICS
- CBK will not cap interest rates charged by digital lenders