Dutch menswear seller to bring entire marketing team to U.S. Casual office attire trend doesn’t worry CEO Fokke de Jong
The Dutch menswear seller may not yet be a household name outside of the millennial circuit, but it is spending heavily to change that. It has gone on a hiring spree to fill its senior ranks – including former executives from Bank of America to Tory Burch – and mapped out a plan for international growth. Its chief onslaught will be in the U.S., even as American men embrace more casual looks in the office and at home.
“I’ve been hearing that for a long time,” Chief Executive Officer Fokke de Jong said of the rise of athleisure and casual offices, “and we haven’t seen it. Men are spending more money on clothes; I think they’re spending more on more elegant things, too.”
De Jong is betting that men care about how they look and are willing to pay for quality and fit, and he’s doing it at a time when other men’s retailers are struggling. Tailored Brands Inc., which owns the Men’s Wearhouse and Jos. A. Bank suiting chains, has 20 % of the men’s clothing store market in the U.S. and has seen revenue fall the last two fiscal years, with IbisWorld forecasting another down year ahead. Over the past five years, there has been a 10 percentage-point spike in employers that permit casual dress any day of the week, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.
Even so, Suitsupply saw revenue grow 19 % last year to EUR 245.6 million (USD 293 million), according to filings with the Dutch Chamber of Commerce. That is thought to be about the size of fashion label Rag & Bone. Suitsupply lost EUR 11.4 million euros (USD 13.6 million) in 2017, however, as it spent millions to open a surge of new stores.
At about USD 400 to USD 1100 for an off-the-rack suit, in a variety of fabrics from wool to linen, Suitsupply’s wares are more expensive than the mass-market brands but do not reach near the pricey heights of European luxury labels. Select stores also offer fully custom made-to-measure tailoring.
De Jong started Suitsupply in 2000 from his college dorm room in the Netherlands. Originally online only, it soon began setting up stores and in 2007, opened its first location abroad — in Antwerp, Belgium. It is targeted international markets for growth since then.
By 2017, the company needed funds to fuel its global aspirations. In November, the closely held company raised USD 360 million in financing from NPM Capital and several major banks.
Suitsupply has also been growing its talent pool. This month, it hired Andrea Suarez, previously an executive at Rag & Bone, as its president of North America. In April, it signed on Jeremy Crume, previously of Tory Burch and Kate Spade, to run retail operations in the region.
The latest round of hiring kicked off last May when Bank of America Merrill Lynch managing director David Dijkhuis became Suitsupply’s chief financial officer. This March, Stefano Langenbacher, previously of European housewares retailer Home24, came in to head e-commerce platforms as chief technology officer. Former Levi Strauss & Co. executive Jennifer Ross-Murphy joined in March as well to run the retailer’s supply chain. The company has also formed a board of advisers, including Robert Polet, former CEO of Kering SA-owned Gucci.
De Jong said he’s focused on adding to the growing management team. Suitsupply is still looking for a chief marketing officer and is bringing its entire marketing team to the U.S.
“A few years ago I found out I could only travel so many hours,” he said. “That’s the other biggest part of our business: finding the right people to make it scale into its potential.”
In New York last Thursday, de Jong wore a navy jacket over a blue-striped shirt with a patterned pocket square and sunglasses peeking from his breast pocket. He was overseeing last-minute details for an event celebrating the company’s fourth store in the city — in trendy Williamsburg at the William Vale hotel. Like most of its stores, this one is tucked away and a few blocks removed from where most other retailers operate.
Suitsupply’s stores are often found in peculiar spots. A restored villa in the French Concession in Shanghai, off a highway in Amsterdam, a converted office building at the end of a cobblestoned driveway in Greenwich, Connecticut. De Jong wants to avoid the high rents of the major commercial districts and knows his customers will travel to seek out the stores. Many of them have selected goods online and come to shops for tailoring and service, he said.
“It works in Shanghai, it works in Sydney, basically we’ve proven that way of doing business works everywhere in the world,” he said.
The company opened its first U.S. store in 2011 with a Manhattan flagship and quickly got the attention of men’s style publications. GQ declared it one of the best new stores in the city. Eschewing the traditional power suit for more fashion-forward flair, the label gained a devoted following among young urban American men.
Today it has 98 stores in about two dozen countries, including China, the U.K., and Russia. Customers include celebrities like Samuel L. Jackson and musicians Bruno Mars and Macklemore, and the company is experimenting with a women’s brand, SuiStudio, online and in four locations.
Other suit companies were “sending out a message of conformity,” de Jong said of his U.S. competition. “We took it somewhere else and made it more exciting and played around with it a little more.”
“The U.S., when we started, it was lacking” high-service, affordable tailored retailers, he added. “We didn’t question why; we asked how we are going to tap into this market successfully — continuously.”