“One of our biggest challenges is Vancouver isn’t really a suit city.”
— Will Yoshikawa Chen, Co-owner of Garrison Bespoke
Garrison Bespoke commits to making the best handmade suits for men around the world. The west coast branch of the company has only been around for two years and has a lot to live up to.
Garrison Bespoke Toronto has often been referred to as Canada’s best bespoke tailor—recommended by Sharp Magazine, GQ, and has outfitted the big four professional sports teams (Toronto FC, Raptors, Maple Leafs, and Blue Jays). Arguably, more notable is the list of men who wear a Garrison suit. From Gabriel Macht and Patrick J. Adam—who play the duo of Harvey Specter and Mike Ross in USA Network’s lawyer drama Suits—to Drake, who wore several pieces lined with material from Raptor’s jerseys in his role as their Global Ambassador. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, actor Laurence Fishburne, and many other notable Canadians brought recognition to the brand as its clout in Toronto and beyond grew exponentially.
When Chen and his co-owner Richard Wong opened in Vancouver, the problem wasn’t a lack of high-profile buyers to wear their products. It was finding the rest of their customer base. One of the challenges faced by the bespoke suiting shop is their location—currently housed in the back of a salon downtown.
One of our biggest challenges is Vancouver isn’t really a suit city,” Chen states, addressing a crowd at the Vancouver Club last Wednesday. Garrison was celebrating a successful second year and showcasing several new product offerings for the upcoming FW 2019 season. To a passerby, there may not have been anything pioneering talking about suits in a wood-paneled room full of onlookers sipping scotch, but Chen’s address told a different story.
“We have been doing a push in lifestyle tailoring, thinking less about the colour or the cut, or how wide your lapels are, but what your lifestyle really is,” says Chen. He elaborated on their clients, who were increasingly working in industries not traditionally associated with suiting—like technology, cannabis, and cryptocurrency. These were customers who wanted something versatile, for a wedding or client meeting where formality wasn’t taken too seriously.
The products he highlighted included the Rugby Stretch Suit and Storm Coat, both well suited to their style and ethos of tailoring. The Stretch Suit will feature four-way elasticity, which on the surface seems to be a product suited for men with a more muscular figure, but goes much further than that. Stretch fabric in a suit isn’t necessarily about making business clothing that wearers could cycle or do yoga in (retailers like Kit and Ace and Lululemon have covered those areas). Garrison is making menswear more accessible by making it easier to wear day-to-day.
One of the most common complaints about wearing a suit and tie can be downright uncomfortable, fabrics can be prone to overheating and make activities like getting out of a car or dancing on your wedding night a chore. Making menswear accessible seems to be about making it make sense for the basics, not necessarily trying to create new standards of what is appropriate to wear for meetings.
The Storm Coat is an extension of this, with fabric originally designed for RAF pilots, designed to keep the wearer cool during a dogfight and protect them from the elements in the case of a bailout. Nothing could be more in order for rainy Vancouver winters, which push the limits of outerwear on the best of days.
Well-chosen products like these are helping Garrison to establish a larger presence in Vancouver. Similar to their Toronto location, they are actively looking for their own retail space and aim to find a mixed retail and private lounge concept. They are in talks to develop a specially-milled cloth with Dormeuil in the hopes of partnering with the Canucks, much like Garrison Toronto’s partnership with Toronto FC. Also, being Vancouver’s go-to bespoke establishment doesn’t just mean keeping it within the metro area, and they are looking to hold trunk shows in Victoria, Seattle, and Kelowna. But with this planned growth comes a commitment to the integrity of their brand, seeking out interesting people to build relationships with, not just sell to.
This extends to other purveyors and designers in the area. “We really want to connect with a lot of local brands out there when it comes to accessories, we know where to send people,” says stylist Ryan Page, a recent addition to the team. Like any movement in culture, competition only goes so far, and Garrison sticks to what they know they can do best while promoting other designers in the community. If the health of Vancouver menswear can be measured in growth, rather than suited men on the street, then maybe it is doing a lot better than its reputation insists.