Suitably Bespoke

2 years ago . 5 min read
Suitably Bespoke

Fashion-wise, Joko Widodo (Jokowi) may be the most flexible to be suited up among all of Indonesia’s male presidents. According to Samuel Wongso, the fourth generation of the family that owns Wong Hang Tailor, Jokowi is the only Indonesian president bold enough to try different suit styles. “We’re quite surprised when we saw Pak Jokowi wearing our all grey-plaid suit, shaking hands with the Sultan of Brunei Darussalam, who wore a navy-plaid suit that day,” says Samuel proudly.

Wong Hang’s relationship with Jokowi began since Jokowi was governor of Jakarta. In the beginning, Wong Hang offered Jokowi suits in primary hues such as navy blue and black, but gradually it offered him a wider selection of colors.

“We also offered our very own water-proof fabric to Pak Jokowi. We told him that the next time King Salman comes to Jakarta during the rainy season, he wouldn’t get wet if he uses this fabric,” Samuel said with a laugh.

The tailor shop was set up 85 years ago by Samuel’s great-grandfather, Wong Hang, in Surabaya. Initially, Wong Hang only served clients who lived nearby his house. His clients then widened to include the Dutch and the Japanese, who then helped him to expand his business to as far as Jakarta. Taking on the Jakarta market is another story altogether. One of Wong Hang’s early customers, Sudomo, the late former coordinating minister for political and security affairs during the Suharto era, helped him grow the business in the capital city.

“Pak Sudomo was very satisfied with our suits. He asked our family to enter the Jakarta market and introduced Wong Hang Tailor to many VIPs,” Samuel recounts.

Today, Wong Hang has 16 outlets covering Surabaya, Jakarta, Semarang, Bandung, Makassar, and even Singapore. Wong Hang family members share a common interest in making suits and control all the outlets. “We hold regular family meetings where we can discuss, share experiences and exchange information about the business,” says Samuel.

Samuel started to adore fashion since he was a child as he watched his father, Peter Wongso, at work making patterns and cutting fabrics before making suits. “On one occasion, I watched the Wong Hang annual fashion show in Surabaya from the back and watched people went on and off the stage wearing beautiful suits. At the time I wished that one day I could organize my own fashion show,” Samuel recalls.

He began to join the family business in 2011, starting from meeting clients and sharing ideas to taking their measurements and making patterns. To improve his skills, he went to Hong Kong to study the nuts-and-bolts of tailoring techniques such as taking measurements and making patterns.

Wong Hang suits look distinctive as they combine modern cutting with elegant colors to make them eye-catching. Currently, Samuel added, the tastes of Wong Hang’s customers have shifted from Italian cuts to variations on looser, British-style double-breasted suits, thanks to the well-dressed gentlemen-superspies featured in “Kingsman: The Secret Service”, a 2014 film that had prompted the director to visit a Saville Row tailor shop in London.

Prior to making a suit, Samuel would set up a meeting with the customer to find out what he really wants. “Most customers don’t really understand their own bodies, what kind of style is best for them and what kind of suits make them feel comfortable,” says Samuel. Once the customer has made a decision on a particular suit he wants, Samuel will take the measurements, make a pattern and cut the fabric himself, followed by a fitting in order to make sure the suit fits well. The production of every suit takes at least four weeks, but it is worth the wait. “Every single piece of suit that comes out from Wong Hang is hand-made,” says Samuel.

In terms of materials, Wong Hang usually combines wool with other fabrics such as silk. It is very light and suitable even for outdoor events. Wong Hang pays attention to every detail of the suit so that it looks modern and stylish as well. This includes selection of buttons and collar shapes, pocket style, layers and fabric selection. Wong Hang offers lifetime warranty to its customers, they can bring their suits to have it fixed should something unbecoming happen to them.

The biggest demand for suits is for weddings, which is 40% of total sales, followed by employees' uniform at 30%. The rest are daily needs orders such as plain and batik shirts and others. Wong Hang has also served requests in large orders such as employee uniforms for companies like Mercedes-Benz Indonesia and Toyota Astra Motors.

Its customers vary, from politicians and business people to celebrities and professional athletes. Last year, Wong Hang received an order from PSSI (the Indonesian Football Association) to make a suit for Emily Heskey, the British football player. The suit had to be ready in 24 hours. As in a Mission Impossible movie, Wong Hang made it happened. Hesley loved the suit and made a repeat order. Last year, PSSI also ordered suits for the U-23, U-19, and U-17 national football team players.

Innovation is key to success in building brands. So, after more than eight decades the company decided to rebrand its image of a traditional tailor shop to one that is cool, funky, and youthful. One way of accomplishing that is by turning its showrooms into modern outlets. Wong Hang also benefits from changing their ways in promoting themselves.

Many years back, Wong Hang allocated large amounts of money to advertise on TV and other conventional media. Today, it chooses to promote their suits regularly through social media by uploading images of their suits. Promotion through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram may prove to be more effective, especially when introducing new products or merely sharing knowledge on how to wear a proper suit.

Written By
Ulisari Eslita