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Thu, Apr 02, 2009
The Business Times
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A good match
by Melissa Lwee

[Photo: The T.M.Lewin shop at Changi Airport Terminal 2 is the brand's first foray outside the United Kingdom. It opened earlier this month and stocks mainly shirts plus an assortment of suits and accessories for men.]

THOSE who grew up from the 50s to the 90s will remember Singapore's answer to well-made shirts and suits then - Melwani's Men's Shop.

Boasting an impressive range of cuts and fabrics from European suit giants such as Ermenegildo Zegna and Hugo Boss, the now defunct retail concept that was run by the Jay Gee Enterprises was known as the go-to place for custom-made shirts and suits.

Now, more than 10 years down the road, aiming to capture a growing middle-class working men's market, Jay Gee is making a comeback in the men's shirt market with one of London's most established shirt brands - T.M.Lewin.

'With the rise of the monobrand boutiques in the mid-90s, men became less interested in multi-label tailoring concepts, preferring to shop at say the standalone Boss or Zegna boutiques,' reveals Jay Gee's managing director R Dhinakaran.

'Having focused mainly on the ladies' market for monobrands, we decided a couple of years ago that it was time to pick up from where we left off with menswear and started to look for a strong men's shirt brand to bring to Singapore, and we finally found a match in T.M. Lewin.'

He adds that T.M.Lewin was chosen for two main reasons. Firstly, the brand's affordable prices made it a strong value proposition. Shirts are typically sold in well-priced bundles of three for $229 at Changi Airport, or $249 when they open an outlet in the city itself.

Secondly, despite its competitive pricing, the brand is uncompromising on quality, having honed (and kept) its stripes from its days in London's shirt mecca Jermyn Street.

A favourite among the 'City Boys' in London, the T.M.Lewin shop that opened earlier this month at Changi Airport Terminal 2 is the brand's first foray outside the United Kingdom and will stock mainly shirts plus an assortment of suits and accessories for men.

Jay Gee plans to open at least five shops in Singapore within the next year with regional expansion on the cards.

Despite the economic crisis, T.M.Lewin's managing director Geoff Quinn believes it's the right time for the brand to expand internationally. 'I know that there is a recession going on but T.M.Lewin as a brand is doing well,' assures Mr Quinn.

'Look at the UK for example. We've been in a technical recession for the last nine months at least but as of three weeks ago, we finished our financial year up 20 per cent year on year. We've done very well because we price affordably but we offer quality comparable to the boutiques in Jermyn Street.'

Singapore, he says, was chosen because it is the 'ideal gateway to Asia', making it the best place to start the brand's forays outside the UK.

And as a testament to the brand's quality-keeping measures, T.M.Lewin has created a range of shirts tailor-made to suit Asian men.

'For example, due to the differences in weather, men in Singapore wear coats less than in the UK so unlike the shirts we sell here, we will offer the option to buy shirts with pockets,' says Mr Quinn. 'Also the cuts will be slimmer with shorter tails that better fit Asian men's figures.'

More importantly, although the brand produces en masse, it retains exclusivity by producing limited runs of fabrics and introducing about 50 new designs every month to keep things fresh.

Concludes Mr Dhinakaran: 'This makes it difficult for people to buy the same shirt so even in a country as small as Singapore, it is less likely you'll run into someone wearing the same thing. I think our customers will really appreciate that.'

This article was first published in The Business Times .

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