Mario Galvan has been a tailor for twenty-five years. He learned the trade from his parents, who worked in small tailor shops in Mexico before moving the family to Southern California in search of better opportunities. As a child, Galvan was surrounded by sewing machines and spools of thread, but it wasn’t until he entered his late teens that he began to marvel at his parent’s skill. “I was suddenly able to see the craftsmanship that goes into the garments that they worked on,” Galvan tells Fast Company. “I am still sometimes amazed that they are able to create such wonderful things with these little machines.”
Since the age of 16, Galvan has worked in a range of roles in the sewing industry, both as a tailor and as a manager of tailors. Over the course of his career, he’s found that one of the biggest challenges of being a tailor is simply finding customers. “You have to be in a really great location in a strip mall or somewhere that is heavily driven by foot traffic for your tailor shop to be successful,” Galvan says. “Most tailors can’t afford to advertise to get their name out beyond their immediate clientele. They mostly rely on word of mouth.” And for consumers, finding a good tailor has always been somewhat of a problem, since there is no simple tailor directory to rely on.
Another challenge facing tailors is the fact that Americans have been spending less and less on alterations over the last few decades: with cheap fashion widely available at stores like Target and H&M, clothes have become disposable products that don’t warrant the investment of tailoring services, making it even harder for tailors to make a living.
George Zimmer, best known for founding Men’s Wearhouse in 1973, has an ambitious plan to breathe new life into the craft of tailoring. Today he announces the launch of his new tailor-on-demand service, zTailors. Using an online platform, customers can locate a tailor in their neighborhood and dispatch them to their home, office, or even a conveniently located Starbucks–whenever they want. The services are priced competitively: you can get jeans hemmed for $15 or shirts tapered for $20. zTailors is also making the network of tailors available to clothing stores that provide tailoring to their customers.
For Zimmer, zTailors wasn’t simply a way to fill a need in the market by connecting tailors to customers using technology. After 40 years at the helm of Men’s Wearhouse, Zimmer has worked closely with tailors and learned the ins and outs of their craft. He says this project was an attempt to help preserve the livelihoods of America’s tailors, many of whom are recent immigrants to this country and whose craft has been passed down from generation to generation.
“Tailoring is mostly not an American phenomenon,” Zimmer explains. “In my prior career at Men’s Wearhouse, we had tailors from two dozen countries. I think tailoring speaks to the American dream: these are people who move to America and often make sacrifices so that their children will be able to have a good life.”
Currently, zTailors is available in select cities like New York and Los Angeles, but it will go national in the next four months. Since tailors will enter people’s homes, zTailors has community managers–Galvan is one of them– who perform a thorough background check on each potential new tailor in the network and verify the quality of their work. Once accepted into the system, each tailor sets the number of hours they are free to work. This allows them to earn extra money with zTailors in their free time, without losing the stability of their day job–unless they want to; for entrepreneurial tailors who find they have the capacity to make more money through zTailors than by working for another employer, this system could possibly replace their day job altogether.
According to Galvan, brick and mortar tailor shops generally hire freelance tailors who keep 50% of what the customer pays for a service, with the rest going to the shop’s owner; with zTailors, tailors get to keep 65% of their earnings. When Zimmer was researching business models, he discovered that tailors in America earn between $15 and $20 an hour; he hopes that his system will allow tailors to earn between $25 and $50 an hour. Zimmer says during the platform’s beta period, he discovered that many customers start out by asking the tailor to alter one clothing item–but when the tailor arrives for a fitting, the customers ultimately decide to have other items in their closet altered, as well. This allows tailors to make more money than they would have had the customer had come into their store carrying a single garment. With zTailors, tailors do have to bear the cost of travel to their customers (both in terms of gas and time), but the zTailor system is set up so that tailors are connected with customers in their vicinity, to help minimize the inconvenience. Zimmer also points out that once the fitting visit is done, the tailor can do the actual alteration work in their own home, while spending time with their family.
Zimmer hopes that by making tailors more accessible and affordable to consumers, more people will want to invest in well-fitted clothes, and stop thinking about clothes as short-term, expendable products. “We all have the opportunity to reduce our carbon footprint going forward,” Zimmer says. “We can do that by not throwing away our clothes because they don’t fit well. Better to hire a tailor than put it in a landfill.”
During his time in the fashion industry, Zimmer noticed that customers often have two separate compartments in their closet: flattering, well-fitting clothes they come back to repeatedly, and ill-fitting clothes they avoid wearing. Zimmer believes that consumers have more and more clothes in the second category because they are increasingly buying clothes online, without the opportunity to try them on first, so they often settle with slightly imperfect clothes to avoid having to return them.
“Having a tailor come to your home was once a luxury only the rich could afford,” he says. “With zTailors, we’re making it possible for everyone to have an entire wardrobe of perfectly fitted clothes that they love to wear.”