Interview: Meet David Hathiramani of A Suit that Fits, the entrepreneur who's turning tailors into techies

David Hathiramani is the founder of A Suit That Fits, an online tailoring business that's turning over £2.5m per year.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 18 May 2016

'I had my baby keeping me up all night so I’m feeling pretty terrible,' says David Hathiramani, the CEO of a Suit That Fits, after picking up the phone to MT. 'But hopefully you can add a bit of charisma and passion into the article that might not come through otherwise.'

His first child (a daughter named Vivienne) has arrived at a pretty hectic time for the company, which lets customers design and buy their own made-to-measure suit online. It's currently in the midst of a crowdfunding campaign which was initially seeking to raise £500,000 (a target it has exceeded) – a process that can take a lot of hard work. 'When the crowdfunding closes it’s going to feel like a massive weight lifted off my shoulders,' he admits.

Hathiramani founded the business in 2006 and has since built it up to a turnover of £2.5m. The seed of his creation was the sight of his co-founder in a Nepalese suit. 'Warren used to have a suit made wherever he went,' says Hathiramani. 'He had one made in China that was pretty shoddy, he got a suit made in Africa that made him look like MC Hammer.

'But I saw him wearing a suit that he got tailored in Kathmandu by some amazing tailors from there and I wanted one too. My background was in technology, so I thought wouldn’t it be cool if you could actually design your own suit online.'

It seemed like an obvious step – the internet has disrupted everything else, so why not Savile Row? But after he built the platform and started trading in 2006, it soon became apparent that people were still keen on the personal touch. 'We started to realise that our customers loved the idea of designing the suit online, but they would really like it if they could have an appointment with us to go through the style and go through the fit,' he says.

So they opened a fitting studio in the City, and started to get 'inundated with appointments.' The suits, which cost between £299 and £1,100, are all made in Nepal, where the company employs 60 tailors and has just invested in a 12,000 sq ft piece of land on which it plans to build a new factory.

The business now has 12 studios across the UK and also offers fitting appointments in 14 other towns and cities, but the journey hasn't been without its challenges. After several years of rapid growth the business ran into trouble and had to be rescued by long-time retail FD Keith Watson.

Hathiramani attributes their difficulties to a combination of events 'outside our control' - like difficulties with its payments provider - as well as a lack of financial nous in the company. 'Having the right board to cover all bases of experience that you're going to need to scale your business is really really important and if I had know that at the time we started I would probably have saved three years of my journey,' he says. 'But it's just one of those learning things and it has stood us in really good stead for the future.'

Things have certainly been looking up since the rescue. Last year he managed to land investment from former Mothercare and Lovefilm CEO Simon Calver and from investor Gi Fernando, who has also backed big-name startups YPlan and Citymapper.  At last count its crowdfunding round was 'overfunding' by more than 20%.

With the cash it has raised, A Suit That Fits is looking to emulate the likes of taxi app Uber and cleaning startup Hassle by recruiting an army of self-employed fitters. 'Now what we’re looking to do and how we’re looking to scale is by creating what we calling a "fit expert marketplace",' says Hathiramani. 'They use our platform, we drive them leads, they use our platform to deliver the tailoring, to book appointments etcetera. They are effectively business owners and we are also guiding them on how to scale their local tailoring business.'

Juggling all that with raising a family will keep Hathiramani busy, but he can at least make use of a good piece of advice he was recently given by an associate. 'He said the best thing to do…was that every minute that you are at home should be time focussed solely on your home life,' he says. 'That really resonated for me because I realised I was getting distracted even when I was at home with a newborn baby. So I made it my mission to focus very much on the home when I was at home.'

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