Mark this as the next place to tailor your very own suits, shirts, pants, and even shoes. Newly launched atelier-cum-boutique, Seamless Bespoke, houses a team of artisans with more than a 100 years of combined experience, to prepare you sartorially from soiree to boardroom meeting.
At a time when traditional tailoring and shoe-making techniques are in danger of phasing out, Seamless Bespoke may just be ushering a new climate of bespoke craft in the retail scene in Singapore. Such is the brainchild of Lusso Tailors, Singaporean bespoke shoemaker Joshua Leong, and local shoe connoisseur Winston Liang. At the shop house, you can choose from a range of clothing and footwear at different degrees of customization and workmanship, peruse bales of quality fabric, or try on leather shoes from a curated range of brands.
We speak to Joshua Leong, 32, one-third of the team behind Seamless Bespoke, about his foray into the shoe-making industry – which saw him leave his comfy career in advertising and sales, Seamless Bespoke, and why bespoke items are the “new luxury.”
To start, could you introduce Seamless Bespoke and what it does?
Seamless Bespoke is a union between Lusso Tailors, Singaporean bespoke shoemaker Josh Leong, and local shoe connoisseur Winston Liang.
It was created to serve as a resource for people when wanting to find out more about dressing well.We assembled a team of specialists who are authorities in their respective fields, and decided that that it was not enough to just have a retail boutique—it was also important to have a place to house their team of artisans, in order to keep the production of their bespoke creations in-house. This is what led us to start the bespoke atelier, which is located directly above the boutique.The in-house tailoring team at Seamless Bespoke has a combined experience of more than 100 years making bespoke clothing.
Also, a large part of our vision was to revive the bespoke tailoring and shoe-making trades in Singapore by grooming the next generation of artisan craftsmen. Most of the cutters and makers in the tailoring and shoe-making industries in Singapore are well into their silver years, and if we do not pass on their knowledge and experience to the next generation, we face the risk of these entire industries disappearing when the current generation retires.
What can visitors expect when they make an appointment at your boutique?
When any customer steps into the Seamless Bespoke boutique, he or she will be attended to by a knowledgeable team of staff, who are always available to give advice about fit, style or construction methods.
We are also the exclusive retailer of a curated range of prêt-a-porter footwear brands from around the world. These include international brands like Yanko from Spain, Oriental Shoemaker from Japan, Enzo Bonafe from Italy, as well as local brands like Palola and Heirloom by Josh Leong. These brands adhere to the highest standards of production, and it eliminates most of the guesswork for customers who are looking to pick up a pair of high-quality dress shoes.
How did you come up with the decision to merge both Lusso Tailors and your namesake shoemaker business?
I befriended Winston shortly after returning from my apprenticeship in Italy, and he introduced me to Lusso Tailors. It was especially timely as I needed a white tuxedo shirt tailored for my cousin’s wedding. This is also how I first met Ryan, who was the head of the tailoring team at Lusso. They did a great job with the shirt and from then, I would always return to them when I needed any tailoring.
Fast forward to 2017, I was operating my eponymous bespoke shoemaking brand from an atelier in Joo Chiat. I was looking to move my bespoke shoe brand as well as Palola to a more central location, to make both brands more accessible to our target audience, which is mostly made up of PMEBs (Professionals, Managers, Executives and Business owners). Lusso Tailors had just started retailing a curated range of prêt-a-porter dress shoes from Yanko and Enzo Bonafe, and was looking for someone with the right expertise to help them expand into the growing dress shoe market.
We found that we shared the combined vision of assembling a bespoke atelier to house local tailors and shoemakers, and to revive these sunset industries in Singapore. Thus, we managed to work out all the details, and Seamless Bespoke was borne.
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What was your first memory that sparked your interest in bespoke shoes/clothing? What was it that resonated with you so much?
It all started out with a love for leather. As one of the few raw materials that has the unique characteristic of looking better as it ages, each leather product has an appearance that changes over time and tells a story about the owner. I first dabbled in leather craft as a hobby, and I bought pieces of scrap leather from leather wholesalers that supplied furniture factories in Singapore and turned them into hand-stitched wallets, pouches and bags.
I wanted to turn this into a full-time profession, and decided to receive proper training from master craftsmen in the industry. In 2014, I moved to Florence, Italy, and enrolled at a trade school with the intention to learn how to craft leather bags and accessories by hand. As there was also a shoemaking course conducted by an Italian master shoemaker named Angelo Imperatrice, I took the chance to try out a different type of leather craft concurrently. Little did I know that in shoemaking would I find my ultimate passion and obsession.
I moved on to do a second apprenticeship at Stefano Bemer, one of the top bespoke shoemaking brands in the world and was mentored by master shoemaker Kumiko Imata, who taught me the finer details of bespoke shoemaking, as well as how to take measurements of feet, and last-making.
Bespoke shoemakers have an obsession with details, and that really resonated with me. A pair of bespoke shoes requires more than 100 individual steps to be executed flawlessly in order for the finished product to fit well and also be aesthetically pleasing.
Executing the finishing details like smoothing out and polishing the edges of the soles and heels to a “mirror shine” take extraordinary amounts of time, and they are features that immediately get destroyed the moment the customer takes his first step in the shoes.
Yet, bespoke shoemakers still take pains to execute these features as perfectly as possible.
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Were there any difficulties coming out with your respective labels or was it generally smooth sailing?
Things were not always smooth sailing at the start for both respective labels.
As the bespoke shoemaking industry is practically non-existent in Singapore, there is virtually no ecosystem of suppliers or skilled labour available locally. Any raw materials that I use has to be imported from Europe and Japan, resulting in much higher starting costs for the business.
Not many were willing to pay for a pair of bespoke shoes, either. Most customers are not aware of the material and labour costs of making the shoes, even if they could afford it.
Scalability also comes into play, especially with the high cost of doing business in Singapore. There will always be a maximum number of pairs that I’m able to produce each month, and I can’t keep raising prices beyond what the market is willing to pay. One of the solutions is to hire more shoemakers to expand the production output, but the chances of finding such skilled labour are few and far between.
For Lusso Tailors, when they first started out, they were the “new kids on the block”, trying to enter a very traditional industry that isn’t always very welcoming to newcomers. Finding master tailors and cutters who were willing to pass on their tailoring knowledge and experience was challenging. The turnover in the local tailoring industry is very high, with new players joining the industry every year, only to close down shortly after because of the fierce competition.
As such, master tailors and cutters who have been in the industry long enough are always doubtful when a new tailoring business comes knocking on their doors, looking to hire or collaborate with them. When they first started to assemble the in-house tailoring team at Seamless Bespoke, it took a long time to build up the trust and rapport with our master cutter and makers before they believed in the vision and came onboard the Seamless Bespoke team.
How is the process of making a bespoke item at Seamless Bespoke different from other stores?
Each bespoke product is made in-house by our own artisan makers, which allows them to see and meet the customers that they are making the bespoke clothing or footwear for.
This is significant when dealing with subtle nuances and anomalies in a customers’ body or feet that go beyond measurements. For example, a bespoke cutter will be able to adjust the way he cuts the fabric depending on what he sees during the initial fitting assessment with the customer, as opposed to a bespoke cutter who has never seen the customer before, and has to rely solely on the measurements taken by the tailor.
In addition, our artisan makers are all local, and have a combined experience of working in the industry for more than a century. Each time you purchase a bespoke product from Seamless Bespoke, you are helping to keep the local tailoring and shoe-making industries alive, ensuring that the next generation will still have the privilege of having locally-made bespoke clothing and footwear.
How do you source for the materials for your clothing and shoes?
For the bespoke tailoring and shoemaking industries, a large majority of the premium materials we use originate from England, Italy, France and Germany. The names of these fabric mills and leather tanneries are no secret, and they are the same suppliers that supply some of the finest bespoke houses around the world.
Annually, we source for new materials at trade fairs like Pitti Uomo, which is the largest menswear trade fair in the world, as well as Lineapelle, which is the largest leather trade fair in the world.
How do you think the menswear scene in Singapore has changed over the years?
I think the biggest change has been the increase in customer knowledge and exposure, due to the availability of information available online and through social media, and more Singaporean men travelling overseas and being exposed to menswear in Europe, Japan and Hong Kong.
This has resulted in a much more discerning customer, where most do preliminary research about tailoring and shoe-making online through menswear blogs and forums before heading down to the various boutiques.
The menswear scene has also shifted towards a more classic, “evergreen” style of tailoring and shoe-making, with customers opting for bespoke house cuts that lean towards classic designs and silhouettes, as opposed to more “trend-based” styles in the media and Hollywood.
Why do you think there is growing interest in bespoke items today?
To answer this question, I think it’s important to take a look at the entire “luxury” segment of the fashion industry. After all, due to the high price point of bespoke goods, it is inevitable that they will always be compared with products from the “luxury” segment of the fashion industry.
In the past, the appeal of luxury brands was largely due to exclusivity, unique designs, and the quality of workmanship and materials used in the construction of the product. The very definitions of “luxury” and “luxury goods” were very different from what they are today. With the influx of counterfeit luxury goods flooding the market, coupled with luxury brands introducing factory outlets and select product ranges at more accessible price points (think Chanel earrings, Hermes bracelets, Bottega Veneta small leather goods), which are all designed to make these luxury brands more accessible to a wider audience, “luxury goods” have become less about exclusivity and quality, and more about the perceived “status” associated with owning these products.
This is where bespoke goods enter the picture, and what they bring to the table is that for the same price as “luxury goods”, they allow a customer to own a product that he or she can confidently declare is truly “one of a kind”, because a genuine, bespoke product is exactly that. Every aspect of a bespoke suit or shoe fulfills the true definition of luxury goods – exclusivity, unique design, perfect fit, quality of materials and construction.
I think that this is the biggest reason why the demand for bespoke goods is increasing rapidly, because customers have grown tired of buying a luxury handbag, only to find out the next day that her colleague brought the exact same handbag to work as well.
Bespoke goods have taken over the mantle from luxury goods, and with the number of discerning, savvy customers increasing every day, I firmly believe that “bespoke is the new luxury”.
During your yearlong shoe-making stint in Italy, was there anything about its culture that inspired you? And how have you transferred that to your business back in Singapore today?
My biggest cultural takeaway from my time in Italy is their commitment to family, and that very often, family and work are intertwined, especially in a more traditional industries like shoemaking.
For example, a large majority of shoe brands and factories in Italy that produce some of the finest footwear, are still family-owned, and often, the factory premises are located directly below the family residence or as an extension to the main house. The workers in these factories are often family members, and shoemaking has always been a part of their lives since they practically grew up in these factories. I think that working with family day in and day out is definitely not something that the average Singaporean would be able to do, but somehow the Italians have figured out a way to make it work for them. In fact, I think it is precisely the fact that these beautiful shoes have been crafted from start to finish by a family of shoemakers that makes them so special.
This aspect of family is something that I’ve brought home with me to Seamless Bespoke, and we often affectionately refer to our team as the Seamless Bespoke family. As a small business, every member of the team quickly realizes that they need to be able to trust and rely on one another to keep the business afloat. Having a sense of family at the workplace makes it easier for everyone to be willing to go that extra mile for a colleague if need be.
Any advice for people who are hoping to make a career switch as well?
My advice would be to not just rely solely on passion when taking the plunge and starting your own business. Passion is an important fuel when it comes to setting up the business during the initial stages, but what gets you through the tough times is the team that you build around you. Too often, new business owners don’t realise how important it is to assemble the right team of business partners and staff from day one. Look for people who are not just competent in their respective areas of expertise, but that “click” and get along with the other members of the team as well. That’s the only way you can build that all-important sense of family into the corporate culture of the business.
You also have a MTO women footwear brand, Palola, that produces leather ballerina flats and loafers. How has the reception been towards bespoke women’s shoes? And will you consider expanding your designs beyond ballerina flats?
The response for Palola’s MTO ballerina flats so far has been overwhelming. In a little over a year, our humble little brand has sold more than 350 pairs of customized ladies ballerina flats to ladies in Singapore.
We have recently launched a small collection of prêt-a-porter Belgian loafers, which are designed to be the perfect travel shoe. The shoes are constructed without a lining, and the leather used for the uppers is a special type of tumbled grain that doesn’t crease easily. These features allow ladies to chuck a pair of these loafers in her handbag or carry-on baggage without worrying about damaging the shoes, or the shoes losing their shape.
We also have plans to offer Palola shoes with a low to medium heel by the end of the year, and we hope that these shoes will still be just as comfortable as our ballerina flats, despite the heel.
Do you have any personal inspirations?
My parents are my biggest personal inspiration, especially with how they raised my siblings and I to be the people we are today. They’ve always given us all the love and support that we could ever ask for, and they’ve always done so unconditionally, without expecting anything back in return.
When I told them that I wanted to move to Italy to learn leather craft and shoemaking, they never discouraged me from pursuing this path. Rather, they supported my decision and even used it as an “excuse” to take a family holiday to Italy to visit me that year! I think we often forget the important role that parents play in determining how many children from the next generation go on to pursue “alternative” careers like tailoring or shoemaking. Hopefully our story can inspire more parents to encourage their children to pursue their passions and dreams!
Lastly, what are your future plans for the company?
We have plans to expand into tailored womenswear, following Palola’s promising response. Faith Cheng, our female tailor in the Seamless Bespoke family, who also has a background in women’s fashion design, will be spearheading the womenswear team.
We will also continue to grow our team of artisan makers, to keep up with demand and ensure that we plan for the eventual retirement of our current makers, who are all in their silver years.
We would also like to cement ourselves as a valuable resource to the local industry when it comes to providing information and expertise about tailoring, shoemaking and dressing well in general. Our new website is in the works, and we plan to devote a large section on the website to educating customers about the art of dressing well, with hopes that more Singaporeans will see the benefits of dressing appropriately for the right occasion.
Lastly, we want Seamless Bespoke to be the “David” in the local fashion industry, where we triumph against the “Goliaths” that come in the form of international luxury brands that have been dominating the local market for too long. We hope that by educating customers and being as transparent as possible about what goes on behind the scenes in tailoring and shoemaking, they will be equipped to make better decisions when it comes to purchasing their next outfit.
Seamless Bespoke is at 17A/B Circular Road.