Bespoke in Birmingham
Seeking colour and style outside of London? Clements & Church tailors is a good place to start
Article by Rupert Watkins
Living within the M25, it is all too easy to forget that there are many excellent tailors that populate the wider UK. Clements & Church in Birmingham is a case in point. Matt Roden, designer and store manager, explains how the tailoring house was founded in 2007 out of frustration at the lack of high quality and stylish garments available in Birmingham’s department stores. Looking to provide something different, Clements & Church produced a small range of traditional 14-ounce pinstripe suits which quickly sold out. From these humble beginnings, the firm has grown to include five shops in Birmingham, Leamington Spa, Solihull, Oxford and Beaconsfield.
The house carries a full range of bespoke, made to measure and ready to wear – their made to measure utilising a full canvas as standard. They stock a comprehensive selection of British cloth, although Matt notes that most of their clients now seek a much lighter 9 to 10 ounce cloth, meaning Clements & Church also does a lot of work in Italian fabrics – including Ferla (who also supply Dior women’s wear), Loro Piana and Cerrutti. The firm does a strong line in wedding suits as well as supplying many Birmingham entrepreneurs who, as Matt comments, ‘want clothes that are different but still look immaculate.’
One of the hallmarks of Clements & Church is that the house never does ready to wear collections of more than 18 pieces. This is what they feel confident getting out of a single bolt of material. As such, there are never going to be large runs of any one garment, and all of their clothes will have a rarity value. The pieces are not only limited by cloth. Matt explains how they do different collections for each shop, meaning that; “at any one time, we have around 100 different collections in circulation.” One reason for this is that Clements & Church have cannily realised customers at each of their store locations do seek differing and distinctive looks; at their Oxford store for example, they know the clientele seek louder trousers.
Away from London, Matt remarks, there continues to be a strong need to educate and advise new customers; “people have a nebulous idea and the interest in having something made but lack full knowledge.” He finds that many first time buyers do tend to start safe with a conventional work suit before gaining the confidence to order something more unique. Pushing the clients to experiment in this way means that Clements & Church has become known over the past few years for a distinctive and colourful style. That said, it can be taken too far. Matt smiles when he recalls one customer who asked for snake skin lapels on their jacket. As he says though, the advice provided is more about suggestion and discreet persuasion – never lecturing the client.
Most of Clements & Church’s new custom is in their 30s with new bespoke customers a couple of years older. Matt comments sadly that the art of bespoke tailoring in Birmingham has shrivelled in recent years. Aside from them, there are only three other remaining tailors in the city, and they are all contemplating or have planned to retire. To maintain custom, Matt stresses how Clements & Church have focused on top notch service. They are happy to go to their clients and have a team of measurers on the road five days a week.
Due to the range of cloth they stock and use, the firm has always used a variety of workshops to make their garments. Matt explains, “we look at the fabric first and foremost and then find the correct person to work with it.” This means Clements & Church uses workshops in Yorkshire, through Amsterdam and down into Italy.
Despite the sad decline of tailors in Birmingham, Matt says the city itself is thriving. Extensive regeneration has seen many firms and professionals locate there, which has bought welcome custom. In addition, Birmingham University has seen a huge influx of overseas students – most notably from China. The increasing wealth of that country’s middle class means that Matt sees a lot of Chinese undergrads. Their other shops are seeing equally good custom, even in Oxford, where they compete with Ede & Ravenscroft – although Matt remarks that the two tailoring houses offer a very different style and so sit happily alongside each other. The biggest challenge Matt comments over the years has been building brand awareness and overcoming the style media’s London obsession. “London is the final frontier”, as Matt puts it; “we want to be established everywhere else first.”
With Clements & Church’s growth, the house has dressed a couple of footballers and has managed to become the favoured tailor to a number of the England Rugby Union squad. Along with this, the firm has begun to do US trunk shows, having recently covered the East and West Coast, and there are tentative plans for trunk shows in Dubai. Having recently begun to deal with the American market Matt comments there is a subtle difference between UK and US clients; ‘American like to be told what to wear” he feels. “They have bought into the “English bespoke tailor” thing and so almost expect you to know what they should have.” Alongside this increased footprint, Clement & Church is pondering showing at LCM 2017.
Clements & Church is clearly thriving as it moves forward. “Tailoring is about theatre”, as Matt puts it. With a distinctive house look and focus on personal service, “it’s about fitting the mind as much as the body” at this colourful Birmingham tailors.
Enquiries: Clements & Church, (Birmingham shop) 22 Church Street, Birmingham B3 2NP / 01212 339994 / other shops in Oxford, Solihull, Beaconsfield and Leamington Spa / www.clementsandchurch.co.uk/