Savile Row’s best-kept secret: The master tailors of Sri City
When Hollywood star Chris Hemsworth set foot on the red carpet for a movie premiere in a dapper suit, Tamil Selvan could barely conceal his overwhelming sense of pride and accomplishment.
The suit donned by Hemsworth was hand-stitched at the very workshop in Sri City, Andhra Pradesh, India, where Tamil plies his trade as a master tailor.
“I feel very proud that what I stitch in India is being sported internationally by stars,” said a beaming Tamil.
Just 15 years ago, a deadly tsunami had swept the former fisherman far from his home in Tamil Nadu, India.
Thanks to MSR Garments, a suit manufacturer that started as a social enterprise, Tamil was able to pick up the pieces and undergo the necessary training needed to craft bespoke suits with materials of the highest quality.
Since 2016, MSR has produced fine suits exclusively for Cad & The Dandy, a bespoke tailor housed along London’s famed Savile Row with operations across the UK, the U.S., and Sweden.
Working regularly with high-end luxury fabrics, the brand’s world-class craftsmanship is often in the limelight, with the likes of Chris Rock, Noel Gallagher and the cast of Men in Black previously spotted in their fitted suits.
The right fit
The art of suit-making is an extremely painstaking process, one that comprises 11 stages from pattern-making to cutting and finishing.
Even for the same design, different markets require different cuts. For instance, while comfort is key for customers in the UK and Sweden, American consumers are more concerned about the look of the suit.
Such is the attention to detail that a single jacket has more than 150,000 stitches, all hand-made from scratch by Tamil and the other trained tailors in MSR’s 120-strong production unit.
A typical suit requires up to three fittings over six to eight weeks, with each step of the process, including the fitting, being time-definite.
“Our whole business depends on timely and secure delivery, even more so for weddings or special occasions. We have a tight deadline of 60 to 90 days,” shared Suresh Viswanathan, Director, MSR Garments.
The cost of premium fabrics, such as Gutermann threads from Germany or cashmere wool from China, means that the trial garments are usually made from cheaper fabric before cutting the actual cloth for a suit, which can cost upwards of 200,000 rupees (€2,547).
A team of six works on each suit, which takes four to five days to complete before being prepared for shipping. Every week, the company works with DHL Express India to deliver the finished suits to the U.S. on Wednesday, UK on Thursday and to Sweden on Friday.
“The strong business acumen of India’s SMEs, like MSR, makes it easy for them to compete on the global level and take their products to international markets,” shared Sandeep Juneja, Vice President, Commercial, DHL Express India.
“It is very humbling to get the opportunity, to support the transformation of businesses and the lives of so many local artisans,” Sandeep added.
From Sri City to London
Since its early days as a social enterprise providing employment in Sri City, an integrated business township situated near Chennai, India, MSR has trained over 2,000 people to manage their large-scale manufacturing of suits.
Among them includes M Mallika, who oversees quality control and inspection. She only speaks Tamil and is barely literate, but the 33-year-old has since learned to match numerical data to patterns and is now picking up the English language.
Tamil continues to pass on his craft to other talented colleagues like Mallika in the team, which produces 350 suits and 600 shirts collectively in a single month.
“From the outset, our business has focused on training and the importance of hand skills,” said Suresh.
That dedication paid off in 2016 when their work captured the imagination of two British customers who were hugely impressed by the delicate craftsmanship — Ian Meiers and James Sleater, the owners of London-based tailor Cad & The Dandy. The duo eventually bought over MSR and shifted their manufacturing base to India.
Till today, the fabric of the company remains intact. The emphasis on skills development and its people has not waned over time.
Though most of its workers hail from villages around the township, some still take around one and a half hours to reach work daily. To shorten their everyday commute, the company even goes the extra mile to pick up and drop off its employees to and from work, according to Suresh.
While the company goes to great lengths to empower them, fulfillment for the master tailors comes in a simple form: seeing their handcrafted suits worn by people across the globe.
“I make sure all my customers get exactly what they ordered. That makes me happy,” said Mallika with a smile.