The tai­lor who has cre­ated a busi­ness that is the per­fect fit.

Toby Lu­per did not see eye to eye with the world of law and even­tu­ally moved into the fam­ily tai­lor­ing em­pire be­fore cir­cum­stances Is­mail Mulla. forced him to make a big de­ci­sion. He spoke to

Yorkshire Post - Business - - FOCUS ON SMES -

Toby Lu­per’s fam­ily ran a suc­cess­ful tai­lor­ing em­pire when he was grow­ing up so it’s lit­tle won­der that he’s well versed in what does and doesn’t make a good suit. “I’m wear­ing a suit to­day that I’ve not been able to get into for five years be­cause I’ve put so much weight on but I’ve lost that weight,” he says. “I’m wear­ing a suit to­day that I wore for my wed­ding, which was 17 years ago. Does it look like a 17-year-old suit to you?”

Truth be told it looked like the en­sem­ble he was wear­ing had just been tai­lored. His point is: “qual­ity lasts”.

That was an ethos that ran through his fa­ther’s Leeds-based busi­ness Ex­e­cu­tex. It’s one that he swears by with his own busi­ness Hem­ing­way Tailors.

While his fa­ther may have over­seen a tai­lor­ing em­pire em­ploy­ing 1,200 peo­ple at its peak and the fam­ily’s her­itage in the in­dus­try may have stretched back 100 years – Mr Lu­per’s great grand­fa­ther was also a tai­lor – it wasn’t a given that he too would end up in the same trade.

His fa­ther Stan­ley wanted him to be­come a lawyer. In fact he went to study the sub­ject at univer­sity.

“I left univer­sity at 19 be­cause I failed my law ex­ams,” Mr Lu­per says. “In those days you had to pass every el­e­ment as one in every year. I failed my land law part of the ex­ams and I knew that I would never pass it if I stayed to be 100 there.”

Mr Lu­per’s dad wanted him to go back to study law but he re­fused. In re­turn Stan­ley Lu­per re­fused to al­low him into the fam­ily busi­ness.

“So I started my own busi­ness, which was a re­tail, pile it high, sell it cheap type of a busi­ness,” Mr Lu­per said.

He sold that busi­ness in 1976 at the age of 23 and was plan­ning on go­ing trav­el­ling, when he got a call from his fa­ther.

Mr Lu­per said: “On the Fri­day when I sold it he said ‘what are you go­ing to do with the money?’

“I said I’m go­ing to go to the South of France with my girl­friend. He said not with that money you’re not. He said be at the fac­tory at 6.45 on Mon­day morn­ing.”

On the Mon­day morn­ing he was handed a brush and told to go and sweep the ware­house. Mr Lu­per would spend the next few years learn­ing every as­pect of the fam­ily busi­ness along­side his brother, John, who was al­ready in the fam­ily busi­ness.

Be­ing the son of the owner didn’t make it any eas­ier for Mr Lu­per. Col­leagues would of­ten play prac­ti­cal jokes.

“As you can imag­ine the son of the boss wasn’t treated as well,” he laughs. “They played a num­ber of jokes on me but they only played them once.”

He re­calls one in­ci­dent when the tailors knocked a box of pins off the ta­ble leav­ing a young Toby Lu­per to pick them off the floor.

“The fol­low­ing day they did the same thing,” Mr Lu­per said. “This time I brought a mag­net in.”

Ex­e­cu­tex made gar­ments for sev­eral house­hold names like Burberry and Bur­ton. Mr Lu­per learned ev­ery­thing about the busi­ness in­clud­ing how to make gar­ments.

A craft that he was able to put into good use af­ter tragedy struck. His brother John was mur­dered in 2004. To this day those re­spon­si­ble have not been found.

The two broth­ers shared own­er­ship of Ex­e­cu­tex. They had bought var­i­ous cloth­ing busi­nesses to ex­pand the fam­ily firm. His brother’s death prompted Mr Lu­per to sell the fam­ily busi­ness.

Mr Lu­per said: “When my brother died, I’d just turned 50. I still think about my brother every day. It took me a long time to ad­just to what I was go­ing to do with my life and how I was go­ing to do it.

“I thought that I only re­ally know two things. That’s tai­lor­ing and prop­erty. Those are the only things I knew. It wasn’t a good time to go into prop­erty in 2008/09.”

Hav­ing formed Hem­ing­way Tailors in 2006, he slowly grew the busi­ness from ground up as all his con­tacts pre­vi­ously were on the whole­sale or re­tail side of tai­lor­ing.

“I now have around 1,500 clients across the world and I travel to Amer­ica, Canada and Europe,” Mr Lu­per says.

Find­ing cus­tomers to scale the busi­ness has been the big­gest chal­lenge for Mr Lu­per. Be­spoke tai­lor­ing is a very “per­sonal busi­ness”, he added. That’s where the next chal­lenge lies for Mr Lu­per.

The mas­ter tai­lor said: “I’m 65 this year. I would like to re­tire at some point or take it eas­ier.

“I would like to find some­body or a com­bi­na­tion of peo­ple to come and join me and work with me for a pe­riod of time; grad­u­ally take over my busi­ness.”

Mr Lu­per says that his busi­ness wasn’t easy to sell due to the so­cial na­ture of it. He added: “My clients be­come my friends. Un­less I find the right type of per­son that gets on with my cur­rent clien­tele it’s not go­ing to work.”

Hem­ing­way, which em­ploys four peo­ple, does both made-tomea­sure and fully be­spoke. But what’s the dif­fer­ence?

Mr Lu­per said: “The dif­fer­ence be­tween the two is com­par­ing a Jaguar with a Bent­ley. Both great cars and both do the job but they’re made dif­fer­ently.

The for­mer is pri­mar­ily made by ma­chine from tem­plates and the lat­ter is made pri­mar­ily by hand. That’s the dif­fer­ence.

“A made to mea­sure suit is made and ad­justed from a pre-formed tem­plate or pat­tern. Whereas with be­spoke you draft ev­ery­thing from the start.”

The great­est les­son that he learnt un­der his fa­ther was to run a cloth­ing busi­ness you had to know how to make the gar­ment.

“He also sent me to work with cloth mills so I un­der­stood the man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­cesses of cloth,” Mr Lu­per said. “To­day you get stu­dents who have done de­sign cour­ses but they have not been taught any­thing about cloth.”

Dress­ing trends are chang­ing. Ties are out, waist­coats are in, due to a cer­tain foot­ball man­ager. Peo­ple are opt­ing for a more ca­sual look in the of­fice with jacket and trouser com­bi­na­tions. All of which Mr Lu­per is ca­pa­ble of cater­ing for. The firm also sees a lot of growth in the ladieswear mar­ket.

Over the years tai­lor­ing has seen huge changes with an in­crease in mech­a­ni­sa­tion and many tai­lor­ing busi­nesses shift­ing abroad.

How­ever, one thing re­mains a con­stant and that is Mr Lu­per’s eye for tex­tile de­tail.

The dif­fer­ence be­tween the two is com­par­ing a Jaguar with a Bent­ley.

PICTURE: SI­MON HULME

TOBY LU­PER: ‘To­day you get stu­dents who have done de­sign cour­ses but they have not been taught any­thing about cloth.’

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