Returning to Sam’s Tailor

Hong Kong
Returning to Sam’s Tailor
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I first visited Sam’s in July 2014. In the Kowloon region of Hong Kong, off Nathan Road, a small shop can be found at the back of an old shopping plaza. Three signs greet you: one neon, one large, block letters on a granite backdrop, and one more, vertically standing by the window. To get here, you’ll have to ignore countless barkers on the street, insisting you, old pal, old buddy, simply must come to their suit shop.

Smile and walk on by. Sam’s is where you want to go.

Every inch of the small store’s walls not covered by storage racks overflowing with exotic bolts of fabric is covered with pictures of the store’s famous customers. George, George W, and Jeb Bush. Bill and Hillary Clinton. Angela Merkel. Prince Charles. Michael Jackson. David Bowie. Venus Williams. So many faces recognizable from entertainment, culture, and politics, that it’s impossible to list or even possibly recognize them all.

The store’s motto holds as true now as it did when I visited a few years ago: “When it comes to the who’s who of globetrotters, one has to ask not, ‘Who has been to Sam’s?’ but rather, ‘Who has not?’”

Manu Melwani, son of Sam Melwani, still runs the shop and can be seen on a nearly daily basis hovering between various customers and employees. Manu’s father founded Sam’s in 1957, and the shop was Britain’s uniform supplier in Hong Kong until the territory’s handover to the Chinese. Though they may no longer do a booming business fitting Her Majesty’s finest, the reputation of Sam’s Tailor traveled globally over many years, as one diplomat and executive after another brought their friends and colleagues in to have a suit fitted.

These days, Roshan Melwani, Manu’s son, has increasingly become as much the face of Sam’s as his father. Roshan has expanded the shop’s presence to social media, often featuring customers famous and not on Instagram and Facebook, wearing suits already completed or in mid-production, when customers come in for sizing.

While a bespoke suit might take weeks in many environments, Sam’s can finish up the work from scratch in as little as a day, if the situation calls for it. On my last visit, two dress shirts were ready within hours of my measurements first being taken, while a three piece suit was created in under 30 hours, including two different fitting sessions. This time around, though I was on the ground for a bit longer, my itinerary put me in Hong Kong at an inconvenient time, arriving late on a Saturday and leaving early on Tuesday.

Planning My Visit

I contacted Roshan on Facebook a couple weeks before the trip, wanting to confirm that I could come in on Monday to have several new sets of clothing made. My original three-piece suit from Sam’s was of such high quality and such good fit that it had all but rendered my off-the-rack formalwear obsolete.

However, a tan suit doesn’t fit every occasion, and now I was shopping for several new possibilities: a darker three-piece for a change of pace, a teal sport jacket thanks to my love of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ team colors, and a tuxedo, for my wedding about a year in the future. Without plans to visit Hong Kong again beforehand, this would be my best chance to get a tux made from scratch, exactly as I wanted, while spending a small fraction of what I might for similar quality at retail back at home. In addition, I wanted an array of additional dress shirts, given that I’d been turning to the two I had made even for occasions where a full suit would be overkill.

On this trip to the store, I wouldn’t be alone, either. Like so many before me, sold on the quality, speed, and service Sam’s has to offer, my second trip could only possibly involve bringing a friend along. Patrick had joined me for a multi-week expedition through New Zealand and Australia, and we were stopping in Hong Kong before heading home. He, too, was in need of a three-piece suit and a few shirts, as the culminating souvenir of the journey.

As it happened, contacting Roshan was fortunate. Georgetown’s entire MBA class was coming in on the Monday we’d be in town, and the shop was essentially closed to outside business as a result. Despite the store being closed, he offered to come in on Sunday morning to help us pick what we’d like, so that we could stop back briefly on Monday to be fitted. Due to the tight schedule and crush of fitting an entire business school in a day, he’d ship the final results to us, rather than have us pick them up that day.

Measuring Up

We arrived on Sunday morning, surprised to see a handful of other customers also there. Once the store was open, it only made sense to squeeze in a few more out-of-towners who’d gotten in touch. Roshan recognized me immediately, though, and as with last time, even in a small store buzzing with energy, one is always left with the impression they’re the most important customer there.

I was prepared for the torrent of questions that accompany building a suit from scratch, after being absolutely floored by them on my first visit. When starting from a fresh canvas, choices must be made about how many pockets the jacket and vest should have, where they should be located, whether they should have flaps, what shape they should take, and how deep should they be? Which of several lapel styles is best? Which of a half-dozen possible vest cuts was right? How much room should be left in various areas of the trousers? The level of minutiae involved can take aback someone used to purchasing suits off the rack, when such decisions are at best left to the subconscious in a changing room.

While I was ready to dive right in to fabric selection, flipping through a dozen or more books loaded with hundreds of fabric swatches each, I didn’t actually think about the fact that I had no measurements taken until we were well into discussing the type of buttons that might look best, and their various placements. Of course: my measurements were still on file from my last visit, and Roshan had been able to tell by visual inspection alone that they remained valid, not having gained or lost any substantial amount of fat or muscle in the intervening time.

It was fun to watch Patrick encounter the overwhelming choices that floored me on my first visit. Eventually, after accepting the customary beer tailors up and down Nathan Road will quickly offer to visitors, he was able to relax enough to make some choices, and most importantly, defer to Roshan’s masterful eye. Patrick had come in dead set on a dark grey three-piece. Roshan explained how unfortunate the narrow American business sense of a suit was, how day in and out he met executives and business students asking for the exact same black and grey suits hardly different from those they could buy from anyone at home. With some encouragement from both of us, he finally relented, and went with an ocean blue fabric instead.

While I knew I wanted grey, I was in the market for something lighter than normal, with a pattern, and open to Roshan’s opinions for button placement (three buttons, with one turned over, such that only the middle one would typically be fastened and pockets (at an angle, two on one side, one on the other, with a standard lapel-height pocket, as well. When it came time to discuss the tuxedo, it was my turn to take the lead, delighting Roshan by picking a midnight blue that he thought might have been outside my realm of comfort. Determining shirt materials went fairly quickly: I knew I wanted two more just like I had already, except with convertible cuffs, and thanks to Sam’s very analog but exceedingly efficient record system of attaching small pieces of swatches to customer records, it was easy to find the precise fabric necessary. After that, I picked several other colors and styles, and worked through conversations regarding buttons, cuffs, and collars for each.

Aside from the highly custom nature and high quality of Sam’s wares, its prices are truly exceptional. It would be easy to argue a trip to Hong Kong could be paid for simply in the savings offered by having Sam’s Tailor make a few suits from scratch, rather than buying similar quality at retail in the US. I was most thrilled that the tuxedo – which would have been decidedly more expensive than even a nice suit at home – was quoted at the exact same price as the suit. All told, I walked away with a tuxedo with waist jacket, three-piece suit, a custom sportcoat and a half-dozen shirts, all made just for me, for about $2,000. The tux alone, from a designer brand with similar quality, could have set me back a similar amount at home. Paying with my Barclaycard Arrival+ meant earning 2% back in future travel credit, without paying a foreign transaction fee.

Back for Sizing

After about two hours in the store, selecting fabrics and making design decisions, we headed out for the day, equipped as always with recommendations from Roshan about places to see, things to do, and good spots to eat based on our rough itinerary for the day. The next day, the core of one jacket and two shirts were already prepared for each of us. This presented an opportunity to take final measurements for the jackets, and to ensure the shirts were sized right. It also meant we could take a couple shirts along right away, immediate souvenirs while we waited for the main event to arrive by mail, free of any shipping charge, a few weeks later.

Unwrapping the boxload of goods that eventually found its way to Florida was a Christmas-like event. Shirts and suit pieces were crisply folded into minimal packaging, and miraculously came out essentially ready to wear, despite traversing half a planet along the way.

I’ll be back in Hong Kong again, on the first step of our honeymoon. While there, I look forward to bringing my fiancé – well, wife – to Sam’s with me, so she can have some suits or dresses of her own made for her new job. I’d put high odds on me ordering a thing or two while I’m there, too. It’s always good to enjoy the bustle of the city, to visit an exceptional tailor who consistently exceeds expectations, and to leave feeling like a million bucks for a fraction of the price.

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Casey Ayers is a consultant and entrepreneur with a passion for travel. After amassing enough miles and points to travel anywhere in the world for almost free in less than six months, he developed PointsAway as a way to help others make travel dreams big and small come true.
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