When Daisy Knatchbull set up her women’s tailoring business in March last year, she kept an eye on her ultimate goal – opening her own branch on London’s Savile Row.
The founder of The Deck, who once worked as a communications director for men's atelier Huntsman Savile Row, is thrilled her fledgling business has now become the first store on the UK capital’s famous tailoring street catering exclusively to women.
“It’s the mecca of British tailoring and is an incredibly famous street known globally that is steeped in history and heritage – there couldn't be a better location,” Ms Knatchbull, whose store at Number 19 Savile Row opened on Monday, tells The National.
Ms Knatchbull, 27, who came up with her women’s tailoring concept when she was only 24, raised £150,000 (Dh713,951) from private investors to set up her business in January last year, opening her first store in Chelsea two months later.
Like many sectors, however, tailoring was hit hard by the pandemic, with Savile Row's ateliers warning that the world-famous street could disappear as businesses struggled to pay high rents amid falling footfall.
With more than 200 years of craftsmanship, the street is the global centre for luxury, bespoke and made-to-measure tailoring and home to over 100 working tailors who produce about £20 million worth of suits per year.
However, revenues fell by 85 per cent for some tailors during the lockdown, as tourism, a lucrative source of income for the street’s tailors, ground to a halt. Businesses pay landlords between £100,000 to £200,000 a year to lease their properties, making profits hard to come by.
This did not deter Ms Knatchbull from relocating her business to the street, who says the pandemic actually gave her an opportunity that previously wouldn’t have been there.
“The current circumstances have allowed for some flexibility,” she says. “Six months ago this might not have been a possibility for us, but the circumstances post lockdown and also being the first contemporary women’s tailor to have a shop front – they were able to make it happen. I’ve still got to make the sales … and it’s a big risk but I feel it’s a really good time to do this.”
While The Deck is not the first Savile Row store to provide women's suits, it is the first to only cater to females. Ms Knatchbull says her venture was also inspired by her move to become the first woman to enter the Royal enclosure at Ascot– a prestigious horse racing event – wearing top hat and tails, which is typically adorned by men.
“The way it was received and the gap that I began to notice alongside the rise in female empowerment and the trend of suits coming back as a wardrobe staple ... all of those things coming into play led me to open this.”
While the pandemic has also dampened demand from overseas, Ms Knatchbull says The Deck is a home-grown venture to date that has grown through word-of-mouth, social media such as Instagram and celebrity clients wearing its suits. Its celebrity client base includes stars such as supermodel Elle McPherson and Hollywood actresses Gillian Anderson and Maggie Gyllenhal.
However, expanding overseas is definitely in our plan, says Ms Knatchbull, who already has a number of clients in the Middle East. The Deck's clients in the UAE, for example, opt for light fabrics, such as bamboo and linen that work for the country’s climate. Late last year, Ms Knatchbull was invited by the UAE embassy to the UK to an event in Abu Dhabi to meet other business owners and build relations.
The entrepreneur says she plans to open another fundraising round in the future to scale the business, though no date has been set and for now her focus is on growing sales.
Customers pay between £2,500 to £4,500 for a made-to-measure suit at The Deck, with clients spending about 20 minutes being measured and up to an hour choosing fabric, buttons, lining and monograms and tweaking the design. Clients then have three fittings over 10 weeks before their suit is ready.
Despite the pandemic, Ms Knatchbull says the company doubled its revenue projections for the first year and had its best sales month in June. The company now has about 200 clients, aged between 18 and 90, either looking for office attire, a suit for a wedding or even the right outfit to pick up their kids from school.
“For a business that launched just over a year ago, we're kind of flying and I'm doing way better figures wise than I ever could imagine," says Ms Knatchbull.
While the business slowed during the lockdown, the surge in activity since restrictions eased was a comforting yet concerning factor.
“I worried that it was almost pent-up demand and it wouldn't be sustainable, but actually clients are spending with us again,” says Ms Knatchbull. “I think the pandemic has allowed women to really look at their wardrobes, assess what they love and people want to invest in goodness. We create investment pieces that last a lifetime. It’s kind of what every woman wants, something that fits them perfectly.”
The company keeps costs low with a small team of four in the London store, including a lead tailor who then relays instructions to a tailoring team in Portugal.
But with the economy still faltering as the number of coronavirus cases rise in the UK and employment levels stumble, is The Deck founder concerned for the future?
"The street has definitely got busier towards the second half of September. It's hard because a lot of Mayfair offices aren't going back, but we've seen a lot of repeat orders after the pandemic. It's a great validation of what we do."
Plus there were new Covid-guidelines to adhere to.
“I was a bit worried about socially-distant tailoring, but we’re following all the guidelines – it’s not a deterrent. And all our customers now get a mask thrown in for free in the same fabric of their suit.”