Sam’s Tailor is a bit of an anomaly in the industry. When we think of the finest suit-makers in the world, Savile Row masters and Italian craftsmen inevitably come to mind. So, it may come as a surprise that the most sought-after tailor by the likes of rockstars, billionaires, Hollywood royalty and former presidents is a tiny shop in Hong Kong’s Tsim Sha Tsui district run by the third generation of an Indian family.
Roshan Melwani is the grandson of Sam’s Tailor founder Naraindas “Sam” Melwani who started the business in 1957. When Roshan took over he found customers were more interested in hearing his opinion than voicing their own and wanted to be told what to do.
“The more I dictated to them, the more amazing pieces I made, and the more people flew out to see me,” Melwani said in a Business Insider interview earlier this year.
From Military Uniforms to Bespoke Suits
After Indian Independence was declared in 1947, an ambitious and somewhat restless Naraindas Melwani went to Hong Kong to seek his fortune. An impeccable eye for detail helped the young immigrant tailor secure his first major gig making uniforms for British soldiers stationed there.
This work was steady enough for him to open his own tailoring shop in 1957. He named the business after his brother Sham, anglicizing it to Sam in order to appeal to his primarily British client base. Sam’s Tailor kept the British military uniform contract right up until 1997.
By 1971, the business had grown to the point where Naraindas was able to buy a 600 square metre shop for HK$150,000. Today, that same space accommodates more than 50 staff members who produce up to 30 suits per day.
The Go-To Tailor for Celebrities
Roshan says the business really started to take off in the 1970s when the Duke of Kent made Sam’s his tailor of choice. Word quickly spread and other celebrities started frequenting Sam’s for their tailoring needs.
“Celebrities seek us out because their time is so limited. And even if they’ve never heard of us, the people handling them know that we will nail it,” Roshan explained in a Channel News Asia interview.
Roshan’s father Manu (who also goes by Sam) has another theory as to why the business continues to be so popular with the 1%.
“Many of my customers are CEOs or partners – they want a proper fit, not a designer brand,” he said.
He recalls one celebrity in particular who came to him with a simple yet desperate plea. “David Bowie just said to me, ‘Look Sam, just make me a suit that fits,’ so we did.”
If you scan the walls of Sam’s Tailor you’ll see photos of some better-known clients including Prince Philip, Prince Charles, U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, along with George Michael, Michael Jackson, Kylie Minogue and Richard Gere.
Passing the Torch
After Naraindas Melwani’s passing in 2002, Manu and Roshan took over the operation as a father and son team. Despite their popularity with celebrities and A-listers, it was their commitment to excellence for the everyday customer that kept them at the top.
“I treat every customer who walks into the shop like a celebrity,” Manu Melwani said. “The only thing that matters is that they walk away satisfied.”
He also pointed to another key tenet of their customer service practice.
“You must ask yourself if you’re being honest about meeting the client’s need. That’s how reputations are built. Even if I take just one dollar from a client, I must give him value.”
Walking into Sam’s Tailor is a bit like stepping into a time machine that takes you back to the era of Mad Men. Very little has changed since the business first opened in 1957. They still take their client’s measurements with a pen and paper. The reasoning behind this is their dedication to protecting personal information.
“It’s like recording a patient’s medical history or taking a deposition. It’s about privacy,” Manu said.
Their sustained history of excellence did not go unnoticed by their peers and fellow citizens of Hong Kong. Manu was awarded the Medal of Honour and Justice of the Peace (HK) as well as Belgium’s Knight of the Order of the Crown. The business itself was recognized with an award from the Hong Kong Management Association. In 2007, Sam’s Tailor was even immortalized on a postage stamp to honour its 50th year in business.
“These are unprecedented accomplishments by a standalone tailor shop,” Roshan said.
The Future of Sam’s Tailor
Now in his 40s, Roshan has taken the reins of this iconic family business. If there was ever any question as to whether he would be overwhelmed by the pressure to see the business thrive under its 3rd generation of leadership, he quickly put that to rest.
“This company is my lifeblood. If I don’t take the responsibility to run this company, then I can’t ensure my future or my family’s future because my future is this company,” he said. “I’ve grown into that mentality.”
Roshan is ensuring that the Sam’s Tailor of the future won’t look remarkably different than that of the past. Perhaps the only noticeable difference is a heightened social media presence. Roshan is keenly aware of the path that led Sam’s Tailor to the unique position it holds in the fashion industry.
“There’s definitely a heritage,” Melwani said. “To anybody, I would never say I’m a self-made man. I’m the rightful heir to my father’s hard work. I’ve used his platform to springboard into what I am now.”
Roshan Melwani is nothing less than steward to one of the finest tailoring establishments in the world.