In addition to suits, jackets, pants and shirts, he offered shoes, ties and cufflinks; tailoring; ready-to-wear items off the rack, and wardrobe consultation.
In 2020, January — normally a quiet month — was excellent.
But when COVID it, men’s clothiers everywhere were collateral damage.
With no office to go to, why would anyone buy a suit, jacket, pants, shirt, shoes, tie or cufflinks?
The only garments men needed were sweatpants.
Stephen Kempson London closed for 9 weeks. To keep his 2 tailors busy, the owner had them sew masks. Fingers that once measured, cut and sewed fabrics to show men at their best now created products that covered their faces.
In June, people began venturing out. But no one headed back to the office. Through August, Kempson had no new orders.
Cloth merchants in England and Italy told him business would not really come back until 2022. The British native kept a stiff upper lip.
He used the time to plan. And pivot.
Kempson ordered patterns and samples to design items a man might want as part of his new wardrobe. He created a lightweight, casual jacket for spring — “like an updated, younger safari jacket,” he says.
Excited, he realized he could use different fabrics to create fall jackets and pants too.
Kempson brought back a casual jacket he designed 12 years ago. He took a classic cashmere sport coat, and replicated it as a quilted winter jacket. He did a blazer version too.
The new price points were lower than before: a $750 start, say, rather than $1,450.
He began seeing men younger than his usual clientele. When they return to the office — perhaps this fall, probably later — it will no doubt be only a couple of days a week. Those may be seen as special occasions, and reasons to dress well.
Meanwhile, he is selling soft polos, and adding more sportswear with casual elements.
Kempson likes helping men build wardrobes around their own personal styles. His shop lacks the long racks of large stores. But he has plenty of fabrics to choose from.
In a sign of changing times, he’s offering 5o to 60% off ready-to-wear items, and 20 to 50% off custom suits and jackets.
“Italians don’t usually give discounts,” he says of his suppliers. “But now, in the pandemic, they’re giving 20% off.”
After 35 years in the men’s clothing business, he remains excited. “For so long, it was all suits and sport coats,” Kempson says. “I’m enjoying offering new things.”