Life of Alumni: breaking into the world of bespoke tailoring with Caroline Andrew
Since graduating from BA (Hons) Bespoke Tailoring in 2011, Caroline Andrew has made a name for herself as the first woman to take over a tailoring workshop in London's Mayfair. In this interview she opens up about the challenges of breaking into a highly male-dominated industry, the freedom of having her own business and the joys of working with a varied clientele.
Hi Caroline! Tell us, what got you into bespoke tailoring?
I studied my Foundation Diploma at UAL where I got to explore lots of different pathways and areas into art and design. In my final term I specialised in menswear design and I decided to make a jacket but didn’t have any idea about tailoring — my tutors helped me a lot! After finishing my foundation course I decided to apply to the BA Bespoke Tailoring at LCF.
For you, what was the best part of studying at LCF?
The connections that I made, that’s the thing I am most grateful for. Studying in London and going to LCF really helps you to meet people from all sorts of areas, and the tutors at the College are so well connected. When you’re in the first steps of your career, even in the beginning of your degree, I think it’s really important to get to know people.
People at LCF are super creative — from students, to lecturers and technicians — it’s a fantastic environment to bounce ideas off of each other. You get to feel there are no limits to your creativity.
You graduated from LCF in 2011. How was your journey from finishing your BA to where you are now?
Leaving uni was terrifying! I graduated in June and I didn’t get a full-time paid job until the following February. After finishing my degree I started working as a waitress in a gentleman’s club during the week and then I would spend my weekends doing free work experience in tailoring. It’s just life and, to be honest, it really sucks when you have to do something you don’t want to do for money and do what you want to do for free.
When I started in this industry I feared failing so much because there’s nothing else I want to do. Tailoring is my life.
It’s tough, but you just have to persevere. After nearly 9 months I ended up getting a job for a tailoring firm in Soho and I stayed there for 6 years. I do believe that hard work always pays off!
You now have your own tailoring business in Mayfair, Caroline Andrew London. How has it been for you going into the entrepreneurial side of tailoring?
The world of tailoring is highly male dominated and it’s very difficult for women to get in — it’s probably a bit easier now compared to 10 years ago. At the beginning of going on my own it was very scary because on top of doing the tailoring bit you also have to put different hats on: the marketing hat, the finances hat… there are so many different things you need to keep an eye on. But I’ve felt very privileged of having a big network of contacts with diverse skills who have supported me; most of those connections come from my time at LCF.
What do you enjoy the most of your job as a tailor?
I love the relationships I create with my clients. They come to my studio and I have to understand why they need a suit, whatever the occasion is, and what they’re like as a person. I then go and research different fabrics and colours that I think will suit their personalities. Listening is an essential skill for every tailor, understanding people and their needs.
There’s a lot of excitement and fear involved in the tailoring process, because customers don’t know what the end result will look and feel like. They have to trust I’m going to make something they’re going to love.
How would you describe the the type of people you design bespoke suits for?
Everyone and anyone! People keep telling me I need to focus on a specific audience, especially from a marketing perspective, but I really enjoy working with clients from all walks of lives. My youngest clients are men in their late 20’s who need a wedding suit and I do business suits for men in their 30s until their 70s. I also work with a lot of young women who are pioneers in professional banking or the legal sector.
Some people have the perception that the tailoring world is quite stiff and exclusive, but I want to demystify all of that noise around my creations being only for a certain type of person. My clientele speaks volumes of that. I don’t care who you are or where you’re from, if you want a suit I’ll make you a suit, as simple as that.
I saw on your Instagram that you worked with Joe Wicks (aka The Body Coach) to make his wedding suit. It must have been a really good opportunity for your business!
Yeah! He found me on Instagram and asked to come and meet me in my workshop one day. He was quite anxious in the beginning because he’s used to being in workout gear all the time. He had never had a suit made for him before and it felt very special to gain his trust and getting the opportunity to make his wedding suit.
You’ve mentioned that part of your job is to maintain the legacy of the tailoring craftsmanship. In a world saturated with fast-fashion, why do you think it’s important to safeguard those traditional skills?
I think it’s really important to be self-sufficient and that’s a huge part of the conversations we’re now having in the industry about sustainability. At the moment, I’m not depending on having suppliers from an international market, I prefer buying cloth from the UK and I make everything here in my London studio. If you think about the older generations of traditional tailors, all of their knowledge is kept in their minds, and it’s necessary for younger tailors to lean in and be around them in order to pass that knowledge on. Otherwise, it will become a dying trade.
What would be your advice to upcoming generations of bespoke tailors?
Learn from as many people as you can within the tailoring industry. If you’re studying your degree now, try and get an internship in Saville Row and learn from the big guys. Spend time around older tailors and absorb their invaluable knowledge — that will help you boost your confidence in your skills. And don’t give up!
All image credits to Caroline Andrew London.
- Follow Caroline on Instagram and connect with her on LinkedIn.
- Find out more about BA (Hons) Bespoke Tailoring.
- Explore undergraduate courses at LCF.
Alumni can connect with LCF in the following ways: