Western Entrepreneur Brings Eastern Tailors to South Chengdu

Suit RepublicEntrepreneurialism is growing palpably in Chengdu. The expat community has long been opening the doors to new establishments, particularly on the restaurant and nightlife side of things. The success, not just in popularity but also financially, of local landmarks like The Spot and Jellyfish is hardly a secret. But there has also been a movement towards more boutique shops, places that offer top-quality products from abroad. The top-shelf beer from Beer’s Nest is now being served in a second location. Then there are the boys at Natooke Bike Shop who turn out gorgeous hand-crafted two-wheelers, often offering more modern renditions on the vehicle that so famously consumed an increasingly urbanizing China’s streets in the 80’s and 90’s.

Most interesting is that the consumer base of these new foreign enterprises is largely Chinese. Upscale Italian restaurants and European delis, types of restaurants that used to emerge as expat comfort food all around bigger cities in China, are now catering to wealthier Chinese customers, a growing demographic that seems more willing to part with their cash.

But what we haven’t seen much of foreigners opening typically Chinese businesses. Bars and clubs, yes, hot pot restaurants and silk stores, no.

Chengdu Poly Center

Outside of the massive new Poly Center in Chengdu, where Suit Republic is located

Enter Suit Republic

Michael McDonald, a 26 year old Scot and four year China veteran, has just opened Chengdu’s first foreign-run tailor shop. Many come to China anticipating enjoying the excellent tailoring here, and equal numbers are discouraged in discovering their peculiar absence here in Chengdu.

Suzhou, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and even Beijing—these are tailor-replete cities. When I lived in Suzhou, a city with a proud history of silk and fabric craftsmanship and now the wedding dress capital of China, a bolt of fabric and a picture torn out of a magazine could produce a made-to-fit suit in a week. For whatever reason, Chengdu suffers from a lack of that affordable quality associated with Chinese tailors.

Like most start-ups, Michael’s new venture started with a problem: he couldn’t find a damn suit in Chengdu. In 2012 he got in touch with a well-reputed Beijing tailor and started cooperating on Tailor Made Chengdu. This seasonal event brought these high-end Beijing tailors into Chengdu armed with measuring sticks and fabric swaths. They’d take requests and measurements, fly back to Beijing, and send back the finished product weeks later. With the popularity of these events came the idea for a storefront.

Suit materials

A few of the huge collection of materials available

His goal is to bring high-quality, affordable, tailor-made formalwear to Chengdu in an English and Chinese friendly setting. Set in what has become a hotbed for startups, Suit Republic is located in the Poly Center in the South of Chengdu near the US Consulate. We got a sneak peak at the HQ, and the place looks simple, refined, and to the point. And, yes, there is beer in the fridge.

Michael is no stranger to starting up. He currently co-owns Dragonfly, a popular, cozy bar. He also organizes and runs the monthly Chengdu Business Connection, an opportunity for expats and locals to get together, mingle, and, more often than not, drink. Find him on the Chengdu Forum posting about what’s been up to recently.

Free Suit Offer & Discounts

With the grand opening of SuitRepublic fast approaching, Michael is hooking up Chengdu Living readers with a chance to win a free suit and a standing 10% discount on all Suit Republic merchandise.

If you want to win a free suit (2,000 RMB value, swanky, swanky), share this article on WeChat AND add Michael’s WeChat account, UKMichael.

If you want to redeem the 10% discount, you’ve got to email [email protected] with the subject line reading “Chengdu Living.”

Note: Suit Republic was just added to Chengdu Places with directions and operating hours. Find that link here: Suit Republic on Chengdu Places  Note: The Suit Republic is located in Unit 1713 building A of the Poly Center

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Zak

About Zak

Zak Dychtwald is a writer and consultant living in Chengdu. Demography, literature, history, and weibo help him make sense of modern China.

12 Responses to “Western Entrepreneur Brings Eastern Tailors to South Chengdu”

  1. Charlie

    This is a great addition to Chengdu, and I’m sure that it’ll be successful. It was really smart of Michael to test the market with the Tailor Made Chengdu events, which were so well received. With a handful of those events happening every year, he was able to build up a client list, earn a good reputation, and assess the economic viability of the business without taking much risk.

    I’ve gotten a few shirts made at one of the Tailor Made events last year, and I look forward to getting a suit at Suit Republic sometime this fall.

    Congrats, Michael!

  2. > But what we haven’t seen much of are foreigners opening typically Chinese businesses.

    Yeah, there’s a reason for that. These are jobs that Chinese people can do. Foreigners are needed for specialized occupations, not shopkeepers. I cringe for the day when I see a foreigner family sleeping in the back of their shop like the locals.

  3. @Charlie Thanks!Hopefully see you in our shop soon. Obviously great demand from the expat community for this kind of service in Chengdu, but we’ve also been overwhelmed by the huge number of local customers interested in tailored suits too.

    @Harland I’ll bear that in mind when we open a second location at the beginning of next year.

    • Charlie

      I can imagine. It seems that Suit Republic is offering the sort of thing that just wasn’t available prior to this. I don’t count the random corner tailors who do things like hem pants and sew curtains.

  4. Went into the polycenter with no luck finding the place. Security guard has never heard of Suit Republic nor is there any listing on either of the two listing boards. Cleaning woman? Nope a big “meiyo!”.

    Left with the choice of cruising the building floor by floor finally gave up.

  5. A *very important* note to this article… the Suit Republic is located in Unit 1713 building A. The staff and security guards in the Poly Center do NOT know this… the sign boards in the building do not list this fact… So unless you like doing a full walking tour of the Poly Center this info is important! 🙂

    Tried to find it once but was in an internet dead zone (otherwise known as using China mobile greater than 5 open air feet from a tower).

    Time to suit up.

    • Charlie

      Thanks for including this information. I’m not surprised that staff and security guards at the Poly Center aren’t very knowledgeable about businesses there. One thing that’s potentially confusing is that Poly Center is actually many buildings, so make sure that you’re in Building A before you head up the elevator.

    • Thank you very much for this, I will edit this information into the article right away. And I need some suits, so I will see you soon Michael …

  6. Good article and congrats to Michael on his bespoke suit business. I had the pleasure of meeting Michael not long before my departure from Chengdu and he always came off as a very friendly, thoughtful young expat.

    The observation that the customers of expat-owned business in Chengdu are largely Chinese is spot on. Having lived in Beijing prior to Chengdu, I found this to be one of the bigger differences in the expat experiences of the two cities and a definite positive for the community in Chengdu (in Beijing, it was very easy to find expat-owned businesses where no locals went at all).

    Although the number of expats may have increased since I left Chengdu, I’m guessing it still wouldn’t make financial sense to start a business that is geared only towards such a small niche market (expats), so appealing to locals is also simply a matter of good business.

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