MONTREAL — Outsource your tailoring to Asia, thanks to 3D technology — that’s the award-winning idea the Thériault brothers of Quebec City had three years ago.
They now have over 11,000 customers and three boutiques: one in the provincial capital, a larger one in Montreal and, since September, one in Toronto.
Their company is called Surmesur and it serves a mostly male clientele.
“We dress everyone from the big-company CEO to the guy who wants his first suit for prom,” said François Thériault, 27, who runs Surmesur with his brother, Vincent.
“The market is really large. And we can do anything.”
The concept is simple: You select the fabric, collar, cuffs, sleeves, style and fit that you want; Surmesur takes your measurements and sends it all by computer over to Thailand.
At the factory it contracts with in Bangkok, tailors fashion your shirt or bespoke suit into a finished product and within three weeks ships it back to the boutique.
Et voilà: a made-to-measure shirt for as little as $55, or a suit starting at $325.
François Thériault got the idea travelling around Asia for a year after graduating in business administration from Greensboro College in North Carolina. He proposed it to Vincent, who got his administration degree from Université Laval, and together the brothers came up with a plan.
The innovative part is digital:
In the boutique, you build your outfit visually on a touchscreen and get measured in a changing room equipped with Xbox-style Kinect cameras. The 3D image gives the tailor overseas an idea of your posture and general body type, and the measurements taken by hand narrow it down to millimetres.
After that, it’s just a matter of making the garment to your specifications. Once it’s delivered, Surmesur’s in-house tailors can take care of any necessary adjustments.
“Every single detail you can think of in a shirt or a suit, we can break it down to create your favourite one,” Thériault said last week from his Toronto store.
“What’s kind of unique is that we’ve brought technology to old-fashioned tailoring.”
At the Montreal boutique on de la Gauchetière St. W., a 2,000-square-foot space with modernist white-and-red decor, manager Jean-Robin Tardif showed a reporter how it all works.
“We have to take the time to explain it to people, because when they first walk (in) they’re usually a bit overwhelmed,” he said. “There are so many options.”
First, a customer chooses from among 5,000 swatches of fabric attached in symmetrical rows to the wall; arranged by collection, their prices are marked on a board above.
Then come the options.
Mounted on the opposite wall is a museum-style display of shirt collars (button-down, wide, you name it) and another of cuffs (two-button rounded, French contour cut, etc.).
In the middle of the store, sample racks of shirts and vests help the customer decide what’s right for him by touch and sight. Off by the changing rooms are racks of ties to choose from as well. Then it’s on to the computers to put it all together.
On the touchscreen, Surmesur staff help each client build a personal profile, selecting the fabric, colours and style.
A heavy-set man might prefer a softer collar that doesn’t cut into his neck. For a casual look, another client might prefer to wear his shirt outside his pants, which affects the cut.
After they get their body scan, not all men are happy to see their true physique displayed in 3D; a slouch and a spare tire look painfully obvious in digitized silhouette. But most know that a well-cut suit makes all that disappear — or at least, keep it well-concealed.
And for men averse to the fuss of shopping, the process is pleasantly fast. A complete fitting can take as little as half an hour.
“For weddings, we stay open after-hours early in the week so people can have a private soirée and get all their fittings done together,” Tardif said.
Other clients include young professionals looking to match their wardrobe to the buff body they’re building at the gym. “They ask us to leave some room in the suit,” Tardif said.
For those in a rush and willing to pay a small surcharge, delivery can be cut to 10 days. VIPs get even faster service. Tardif related how a Quebec celebrity was booked to do a video shoot for an awards gala and needed a suit at the last minute; Surmesur got it delivered from Bangkok in three days.
“A lot of customers come with their girlfriend or wife,” Tardif added. “Men don’t always know what they want, especially in the details, so it’s the woman who decides.”
At home, the man or couple has access online to his profile and can order direct without coming in for a refitting. New customers can order shirts online, too.
For corporate clients, Surmesur also tailors for women; for example, the wait staff at Toqué and Bonaparte, two upscale Old Montreal restaurants, all wear Surmesur shirts. Other clients go for a spiffy uniform of matching suit and tie, such as the snappily dressed car salesmen at a Hyundai dealership in the South Shore suburb of St-Constant.
One feature anyone can ask for is to have his name, number, title or message stitched into the inside pocket of his suit jacket, up to 45 characters.
“For weddings, you can get the name of the bride and groom and the date; one of our clients put some humour into it and wrote ‘Maudite chanceuse,’ about his lucky bride,” Tardif said.
Someone else wrote his the name of his Twitter account, others put their phone number for when they meet girls in a bar, or give their title, like one young lawyer who got ‘maître’ beside his name.
For competitive reasons, François Thériault won’t name the contractor in Bangkok that makes the garments, but said they’re done in a modern, urban facility that pays a competitive local rate (less than in Canada) and doesn’t employ child labour.
“It’s really skilled jobs. I think the youngest there is probably 17 years old,” he said.
Thériault’s not overly concerned about the massive anti-government protests that have hit Thailand lately and increasingly threaten to bring Bangkok to a standstill in the ramp-up to national elections Feb. 2.
“It won’t affect us — cross my fingers,” Thériault said.
There has been turmoil before, and the people Surmesur deal with have not been touched, he added. Besides, he has other tailors lined up in neighbouring countries if things fall apart in Thailand.
Here at home, the Surmesur concept is getting recognition — and prizes. In late November, the company was named the Entreprise visionnaire en émergence — a visionary up-and-coming entrepreneur — at the 27th Trophée Vision awards gala of Quebec City’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The Thériault brothers plan to open one or two new stores in 2014, although they declined to reveal their location. And Tardif was curious to learn about a new concept in the U.S. called a “tailor truck.” The Arden Reed truck roaming Manhattan takes 3D tailoring to the next level: mobile. A client walks in, strips, gets 3D-measured, and the suit is delivered six weeks later.
For its part, Surmesur is sticking to its formula, written loud and clear on the plate glass of its storefront on the edge of Old Montreal: “Pas d’histoire de Small, Medium, Large, pas de mode passagère ni de style imposé,” the slogan says.
“Ici, le designer, c’est vous.”
Watch a short video on the company’s bilingual website: surmesur.com/how-it-works