Christopher Adams

The Business Herald’s markets and banking reporter.

Hard times mean suit up or ship out

Rembrandt's managing director David Lyford says the suit maker is expanding throughout the country. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Rembrandt's managing director David Lyford says the suit maker is expanding throughout the country. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Men's suit retailers say their businesses have partly benefited from economic stagnation, as many white-collar workers - afraid of losing their jobs during tough times - have placed greater emphasis on looking sharp at the office.

Instead of battening down the hatches amid a difficult trading environment, Rembrandt, a Lower Hutt-based menswear manufacturer and wholesaler, has been expanding its presence as a retailer, including opening three stores in Australia.

Managing director David Lyford said it had been a challenging few years for the retail sector, but those in the suit trade had been doing well.

"I think in these tougher times people need to look good - they're competing for jobs, competing to keep jobs ... and it helps to wear a suit," Lyford said. "I think that's assisted our sector."

Tomorrow, the 66-year-old company opens its first high street New Zealand store in Auckland's Newmarket.

The Broadway site is part of a re-branding of its Mark Richard chain of stores, which the company had owned for more than three years, said Lyford.

By the middle of this year there will be four branded stores in New Zealand, including three in Auckland and one in Palmerston North, which will add to the three the firm operates in Sydney as well as a number of outlet stores in this country.

"We want to showcase the entire collection of Rembrandt under the one roof," said Lyford, whose family bought into the business in 1987. "Throughout the world major fashion brands are operating that mixed retail and wholesale model ... it helps for presenting the brand the way it's designed to be [presented]."

Rembrandt's sales are spilt 50/50 between Australia and New Zealand and while suits make the biggest contribution to the business, shirts, ties, casual shirts and trousers (including denim) also make up a reasonable proportion of sales.

In addition to Rembrandt, the firm has two other brands - Kent & Lloyd and Wayward Heir.

The company, which employs 75 staff, began manufacturing in China 20 years ago and most of its products are made there these days.

"We produce the top-end, quick response, small production runs down here in Lower Hutt," Lyford said.

David Eggleton, co-owner of Newmarket's Suits On Broadway and Karangahape Rd menswear store Leo O'Malley, said the retail trade had been "pretty soft" over the past 18 months.

"But we've found the suit business has been picking up for us over the last six to eight months," Eggleton said. "We're probably up about 10 per cent on our suits [sales] this year."

Like Lyford, Eggleton said he had noticed people with "good jobs", as well as those looking to apply for roles, had been buying new suits to make sure they looked sharp. And the growth in manufacturing in China, he said, had made suits more affordable.

"They're probably the cheapest they've ever been per income," Eggleton said.

- NZ Herald

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