Tailors

In a little street called Narayana Pillai Street, off Commercial Street in the Shivajinagar area of Bangalore there stands a building called “Ganesh complex” which can be called a tailoring hub. There are some ten to twelve shops (forgive my arithmetic if I’ve counted too low) all of which are occupied by tailors who stitch women’s clothes, primarily salwar kameez and its derivatives. I don’t know if there’s much to choose between the stores, and I think it’s a question of “tailor loyalty” the way it’s practiced among beach shacks at Baga beach in North Goa.

The wife is friends with a tailor called Ahmed, who runs a shop called HKGN tailors in this complex. Till recently (when he took two weeks with a consignment) his USP was “one hour tailoring”, where upon receiving cloth and measurements, he would stitch your dress in about an hour. I hear that there are a large number of tailors in the vicinity (though not sure if they’re in Ganesh complex) who offer the same terms. In fact, I know a lot of women who travel to that area to get their clothes stitched both for the quick delivery and also for the network of tailors that is present there.

While waiting for Ahmed to deliver the wife’s latest consignment yesterday (the one he took two weeks with), I was watching tailors in neighbouring shops working. The thing that struck me was that there isn’t much economies of scale in bespoke tailoring. Each piece ¬†of cloth needs to be cut separately, in its own size, and there’s nothing that can be “batch processed” across different samples. Of course, there is tremendous scope for specialization and division of labour, so you see “masters” who measure, mark out and cut cloth, and “stitchers” who stitch up the stuff together.

However, across the city, except for the handful of tailors in the Shivajinagar area, the standard turnaround time for stitching seems to be about two weeks. And given the wife’s experiences (I usually buy readymade garments so not much insight there) it is a fairly disorganized industry and requires several rounds of follow-ups and waiting at the tailor’s shop in order to get the goods.

The economics of the industry (that there are no economies of scale) makes me wonder why the two-week-turnaround time has become standard in this industry. Isn’t the turnaround time solely because of inventory piled up at the tailor’s? Can the tailor not manage his inventory better (like say going a few days without fresh orders or hiring a few extra hands temporarily or working a weekend) and thus lead to much shorter turnaround time? Given the individual nature of the job, what prevents tailors from offering instant turn-around like the handful of people in Shivajinagar do? Or is it that bulk orders (one person coming with a bunch of clothes to stitch) mess up any “quick turnaround model” the tailors could offer?

There is only one explanation I can think of. “Sales” and “production”, for the tailors happens at the same spot (their storefronts). For “sales” purposes they need to be there all the time, though they don’t need to be actively doing anything. Hence, it suits them if production is also a continuous full-time process, so that the time they spend at the storefront isn’t all “wasted”. By piling up an inventory of orders, tailors are always assured of having something to do even if no fresh customers are forthcoming.

So as the wife’s experience with Ahmed has shown, the “quick turnaround” hasn’t been sustainable at all.