One of the least competitive areas of luxury clothing has always been outerwear. Historically, designer brands outsourced much of their coat making to third parties resulting in products that were heavy on branding and exorbitant on premiums. The vast majority of such business arrangements have detrimentally impacted the consumer. For decades men were forced to pursue outerwear solutions that were overpriced and derivative. Oftentimes there was a good statistical chance that your fashionable coat came from the same non-descript factory as that of the competition. Correction – the factory that the competition were undercutting was (probably) a few miles down the road.
Thankfully, market forces have begun to disrupt the ubiquity of such practices. As with the industry at large, there is an emerging middle ground – nurtured in part by the advent of the internet – enabling men to buy great outerwear at a price point that is high, without being punishingly so. This section of the market is occupied by brands like Stoffa; think companies that travel globally and sell utilising a trunkshow format. To this shortlist TVG adds Craftsman Co: a Hong Kong based clothier offering made-to-order (“MTO”) leather jackets in calf & exotic leathers at “affordable luxury” prices. They also proudly tout their “made in Hong Kong” credentials – a declaration rebuking the tired stereotype that clothiers here are unskilled labourers.
“Our mission has always been to offer quality outerwear at a price that is honestly commensurate with our costs,” says co-founder Tobe Fong. For Tobe – a financial consultant who studied textile science at UC Davis – Craftsman’s classic outerwear is merely one slice of a larger life well lived. “At the end of the day, it isn’t just about clothes. It’s about leaving enough change in the customer’s pocket for him to do something fulfilling while wearing his new purchase.”
Like other prominent custom clothiers in Hong Kong, Craftsman Co adds value to the market with an array of diverse customisation options. At our initial meeting, TC Ng – Tobe’s partner and a buyer in the fashion industry – presented a number of garments that typify the brand’s approach when it comes to custom orders: there were the usual military jackets in Italian calf; truckers in deerskin; and handsome field coats in lamb suede. Apparently, these were but a sample of the innumerable offerings available. “We try our best to be adaptable” TC smiles. “Recently, we delivered a crocodile skin hoodie to one of our clients. It’s not the kind of aesthetic we’d personally advocate, but if practically feasible we cater with exactness to each individual.” While Craftsman’s house style may still be in developmental infancy, the brand continues to improve their fabric offering. At the time of writing Tobe & TC had secured a new Japanese supplier for bemberg lining – one of many fresh leads they are chasing to ensure Craftsman remains engaged with superlative textile suppliers in the region.
Given our aesthetic leanings at TVG, stylistic choices for my order (with Tobe & TC) were essentially straightforward. I settled on the A-1 “Grant”: that legendary American flight jacket, reworked by everyone from Valentino to Valstar, in dark navy lamb suede. An internationally recognised style, rooted in the storied history of fighter pilots, it seemed the ideal design by which to showcase Craftsman’s quality and workmanship. Finished with midnight blue horn buttons, the aim was to create a casual jacket which would blend comfortably with various menswear tribes. In a word, I was after that most elusive of qualities which everyone with smaller pockets desires – versatility.
The A-1 fitting process was neatly divided into two parts: (1) a preliminary appointment where customers measurements are taken; and (2) a follow-up voille fitting, comparable to cases when a basted garment is used (Note: excellent in-depth coverage of this process can be read over at Permanent Style). Ultimately, the overall quality of this experience is closely connected with the skill of the presiding fitter. In this regard, I was extremely pleased with TC. Given his background, he has a natural eye for the practical steps needed to express a specific stylistic aesthetic. When I evidenced even the tiniest bit of discomfort with a particular measurement he would start the process afresh; and made sure throughout to explain his preferences to me. It is important to acknowledge this in light of numerous satisfied customers who have not had the benefit of directly interfacing with the Craftsman team.
Feedback has nevertheless been largely positive. Melbourne designer Steve Calder, who took delivery of a similar A-1 in early February, was particularly impressed: “the common problem with remotely fitted leather jackets is that everyone has preconceived notions about the kind of fit they want. This is exacerbated by the fact that unlike suiting there are fewer specific rules to adhere to. Keeping in mind the nature of such a business, my opinion is that Craftsman Co actually executes fit very well”.
Fortunately, my thoughts about the final product (received roughly 3.5 months after both fittings were completed in late 2016) align consistently with most other Craftsman Co customers. The result is stylish and ever-so-slightly fashionable outerwear, possessed of a subtle added value. It transpired that the navy lambsuede we had settled on matched my needs exactly – in this case the fabric swatches TC originally showed accurately captured the finished A-1 colour. The material itself does not handle as luxuriously as something that you might find at Loro Piana but the net result remains impressive. The raised nape that is the trademark of cheap suede was entirely absent; instead the material was uniformly smooth to the touch and retains warmth extremely well. TC’s practised eye lent itself to a jacket which appears on the slim side but also gives plenty of ease where it counts. To accommodate my ever expanding paunch, the A-1’s fronts were widened while the sleeves and back taper neatly for a more athletic fit. On the construction front, it appears that the Craftsman team have also taken previous criticism to heart. The sewing of the jacket’s internal pockets, into the bemberg lining, is neat with minimal overlapping seams. The crow’s feet stitching – intentionally requested by me at the 11th hour – could benefit from improvement, but that is a minor observation as opposed to a complaint.
Ultimately it would be tempting to recommend Craftsman with various caveats: think price point; business model; and geographic proximity to Hong Kong. My recommendation is more genial – I wholeheartedly endorse what Tobe & TC are doing. While other start-ups continue to crank out the same uninspired $60 pocket squares and quartz watches, Craftsman Co targets a section of menswear that remains genuinely undemocratic. In a market dominated by fashion houses that bore customers as they rob them, it is promising to see a brand – along with several other notable outsiders – so intent on shaking the conversation up.
Craftsman Co prices start between $850-950 USD
Estimated delivery time is between 3-4 weeks (excluding Chinese New Year)
TVG would like to thank The Hackney & Steve Calder for their respective contributions to this article.