27 October 2016
Roshan Melwani says Sam's Tailor has no expansion plans, with manpower just about right to meet demand and maintain quality standards. Photo: HKEJ
Roshan Melwani says Sam's Tailor has no expansion plans, with manpower just about right to meet demand and maintain quality standards. Photo: HKEJ

Why Sam’s Tailor is like an old suit in the best way

If you are a fan of The Amazing Race, the popular American reality TV show, you would be thrilled that it has finally landed in Hong Kong.

And you would be intrigued by the route which makes a detour to Sham Shui Po and Sam’s Tailor in Tsim Sha Tsui.

Why Sam’s Tailor?

Sham Shui Po is predictable. Many Hongkongers go there to buy second-hand smartphones.

But most of them probably have not heard of the tailoring shop, let alone been there.

Sam’s Tailor is more well known outside Hong Kong. Just ask a tourist who has been measured, pinned, fitted and suited up by any one of the heirs of its founder.

And there’s your answer: Sam’s Tailor is world-famous. It has dressed royalty, presidents, movie stars and sports heroes.

But if I were a contestant, I would prefer Sham Shui Po.

It’s easier to find a phone — or put it together as the case may be — than get measured, pinned, fitted and suited up.

Which is why Roshan Melwani, a grandson of the haberdasher’s eponymous founder, is excited that three of the four teams have chosen Sam’s Tailor.

That’s hardly surprising. 

Sam’s Tailor has been the choice of Queen Elizabeth II, Princes Phillip and Charles, Presidents Reagan, Ford, Bush Senior and Bill Clinton.

Then you have tennis greats John McEnroe and Boris Becker, music legends Michael Jackson, George Michael, Kylie Minogue and the late David Bowie.

The list goes on, and of course Sam’s Tailor was the only official uniform maker for British troops until 1997.

On the 50th anniversary of its founding, Sam’s Tailor was honored with a postage stamp.

But Melwani said the shop has no expansion plans. 

“We think it’s quite sufficient. I don’t need a Ferrari or a yacht,” he said.

Melwani said it’s not easy to open a branch with manpower “just about right” to meet demand, let alone maintain quality standards.

Sam’s Tailor operates in a niche market, which means no mass production and no need for scale.

Although it serves a high-end clientele, its prices are not out of reach of ordinary customers.

For instance, it charges HK$4,500 (US$577) on average for a regular men’s suit that includes a blazer and a pair of trousers. 

Sam’s tailored shirts cost HK$450 each. Students get a 50 percent discount.

“It depends on the material. The most expensive ones could be HK$30,000,” Melwani said.

Because Sam’s Tailor owns the premises, there’s no pressure to keep raising prices.

Sam Melwani, who founded the business in 1957, bought the 600 square meter shop in 1971 for the then princely sum of HK$150,000.

In 2002, Roshan Melwani considered opening an online store but dropped the idea after seeing that the trend was toward more-tailored suits which is only possible in a physical interaction with a client.

But Melwani has nothing against fast fashion.

He wears clothes off the rack and even recommends certain brands to customers.

Melwani himself is no tailor.

Born and raised in Hong Kong, he completed a business degree at New York University and worked in London. 

When he joined the family business in 2000, he came upon an operation steeped in tradition.

His efforts to bring the business to the digital age has often run into opposition from his father.

“We record the measurements by hand on a notebook,” he said.

“It’s like recording a patient’s medical history or taking a deposition. It’s about privacy,” said Roshan’s father Manu, 68.

The younger Melwani does keep up with social media.

Sam’s Tailor has a website and Facebook page which mainly show clients in their new outfit.

But that’s as far as it will depart from tradition.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan. 20.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Roshan Melwani (center), his uncle Sham (left) and father Manu run the family business together. Photo: HKEJ

Although Roshan Melwani himself is no tailor, he takes measurements. Dita Von Teese (left) has been a client for more than 10 years. At right, Melwani is shown with Hollywood actor Kevin Spacey. Photo: HKEJ

Manu Melwani came up with the idea of sewing the shop’s address onto the inside of the blazer. German Chancellor Angela Merkel sent a thank-you letter (right) in 2009. Photo: HKEJ

Writer of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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