Andrew Ramroop arrived in UK from Trinidad in 1970 with a burning ambition of becoming a Savile Row tailor. He worked ferociously hard to fulfil that dream. Today, he owns and runs Maurice Sedwell on 19 Savile Row, making bespoke suits for customers around the world.
He is also training a new generation of high quality bespoke tailors to ensure that Savile Row, one of London’s most famous streets, continues to epitomise the very best.
His remarkable career has been defined by fastidious attention to quality, uncompromisingly high personal standards, a willingness to take bold steps and preparedness to listen to advice and seek out help.
He lectured part time at the London College of Fashion and worked tirelessly at Maurice Sedwell to save the capital needed to buy the firm from its founder, the late Maurice Sedwell. This effort was achieved through sheer determination, single-minded focus on his goal and tremendous personal sacrifice.
Andrew Ramroop made his first export trip in 1992. Find out more about how UKTI can help your business ensure its success in international markets.
“”The focus was on the export market ,” he recalls. “At that time, there was very little business in the UK due to the recession. I wrote to sixty persons abroad who had been customers over the years to let them know I would be coming to New York. At that time I was venturing into unchartered territory as I hadn’t a clue what to expect. I simply wrote asking whether they would be interested in seeing me or in giving me referrals.”
The trip paid off handsomely: the firm’s US earnings soared and helped the firm survive to become, as he puts it, “a very brisk business.”
Today, the world doesn’t just come to Maurice Sedwell; Maurice Sedwell goes to the world. The company has made suits for customers in some 58 countries. “It’s a truly global brand,” says Ramroop.
Seventy per cent of sales outside the EU and approximately half of the orders are placed during overseas visits to customers.
Attention to quality is paramount at Maurice Sedwell. Find out more how business support services such as the Business Growth Service can help your business improve and develop.
Maurice Sedwell’s customers pay not just for the personal attention they receive but also for the extraordinary levels of skill and care that goes into making a hand-made suit. It takes an average of 130 hours for a three-piece bespoke suit. A first-time customer receives three fittings.
As Ramroop puts it, “we take a flat piece of cloth and craft it into a three-dimensional form to fit in harmony with body shape – it’s an extension of each person’s lifestyle and personality.”
There are many meticulous details – from the silk threads and the natural horn buttons and the untreated cedar-wood coat-hangers that is gifted to every customer. The price of a Maurice Sedwell bespoke suit starts at £4,000.
Acutely aware of the need to keep the trade alive, Ramroop established the Savile Row Academy (SRA), a training institute for bespoke tailors, in 2008. It’s a commitment to sustaining and developing the craft of British men’s bespoke tailoring.
“We need to have home-grown talent coming through,” he says. “Everyone was complaining that young people didn’t want to go into the trade but in reality there was a dearth of opportunities for formal training.
“I want to train persons who want to become bespoke tailors,” he says in a gently assertive tone. “If you apply to us saying your ambition is to become a designer, you will be talking yourself out of a place at SRA.” The programme consists of four modules, each one of which is taught two days a week for 12 weeks.
When SRA was launched, only six students were trained; now the intake has a maximum of two groups of ten students and there is no shortage of applicants. It costs almost £14,000 to enrol and the courses are over-subscribed. SRA is now working towards formal accreditation to allow a limited number of students from abroad to benefit.
The term ‘apprentice’ gives the impression of ‘young person.’ Not so at SRA. “We don’t discriminate on the grounds of age. There are 18-year-olds working happily alongside 50-year-olds in the classroom,” says Ramroop.
“Many trainees already have degrees but have chosen to do bespoke tailoring because of a deep passion for creating something tangible. They come from diverse backgrounds and have worked as City traders, actors and bar-owners.” Of the 80 or so who have graduated from the SRA to date, eight have been or are still employees of Maurice Sedwell.
“If you control the standards of training, you control your future,” says Ramroop. “If you keep your skills to yourself, all that will happen is that you will get old, retire and die – and your business will follow suit – there will not be any continuity.
“My aim is to train people here in Britain. This is an export business. We want to continue to sell home-made suits. We want to continue to attract customers to Savile Row and to keep its traditions of excellence and quality alive and undiluted.
“I speak as a foreigner who emigrated to this country over forty years ago and never left! I came to this country because I wanted to work with the best tailors in the world. Now I want to train and improve what we do here, so that we can continue to be attractive for the next 200 years.”
Other Savile Row shops have branched out – some have licensed their brands, others have developed ready-to-wear ranges – but Ramroop is steadfastly loyal to the bespoke tradition of Savile Row. There will always be a market for handmade suits, he says, although he recognises that, in the age of the internet, it needs to change again in order to reach a new generation of customers.
And, he muses, it’s possible that the Savile Row Academy could become a bigger business than Maurice Sedwell. Then the world will not just come to Savile Row to be fitted for suits, but it also to learn how to make them.
The Business Growth Service is now closed to new customers. Contractual commitments to existing customers will be honoured, as long as all support and related activity is completed by 31 March 2016. If you’re looking to find what business support is available in your area, your local Growth Hub may be able to help.