[Executive Edge] A Filipino tailor from Italy

When you see a businessman, politician, or entertainer in a custom-made suit in Manila, chances are they are wearing Tino. The high-end fashion company was started by Eilene Ramirez to capitalize on the talents of her father.

Her dad was a master tailor who had trained in Europe. Ramirez recalls watching him at his craft when she was a young girl. “I would watch my Dad lean down in front of his working table with his spectacles at the tip of his nose. He would transfer the measurements of the pattern on the fabric and etch markings on it with ease,” she said. “Then carefully, he would let his scissors glide gracefully onto the fabric, while the excess materials would fall to the floor.”

Ramirez concluded, “I know, this might sound a bit dramatic but this was really how I saw my dad and his work – the attempt of recreating the human body in fabric.”

During late 2011, Ramirez began to think of a brand that would allow her father to share his talent and practice the techniques he learned related to bespoke tailoring. Tino was thus born.

The first 6 months

Tino is truly high end. The price point of its suits is higher than you would get off the rack at a store in the mall. They have a fixed fee for both two-piece and 3-piece suits. “Prices may vary depending on the fabric,” Ramirez said. “Our suits start at P28,000 and go up to P45,000 for a 100% English wool, and between P60,000 and P140,000 for an Italian 100% wool loro piana suit.”

In other words, the market that Ramirez serves is niche. This is both a gift – you have don’t have to sell on volume like brick-and-mortar retailers – and a curse, at least initially. For a brand new Filipino brand, especially in a space like fashion, it was hard to get the attention of Tino’s target demographic.

“On the marketing side, it was a challenge to differentiate Tino from the existing tailoring industry in the Philippines,” Ramirez said. “Many Filipinos were accustomed to a certain price range for tailored suits, so it was crucial to slowly position and establish Tino’s unique bespoke tailoring services.”

To do this, Ramirez always made it a point to tell Tino’s story and what it set it apart from other tailoring shops. This is how she pitches Tino: “Bespoke is a higher level of custom tailoring. A bespoke suit is hand-crafted – in full floating canvas, basted fitting forms, and hand-stitched finishing. Most essentially, the Master Tailor himself would be the one to take the measurements, do the fittings, draft the pattern, and cut the fabric.”

She continued, “With these, the master tailor would be able to observe every detail of the body and its peculiarity. Another important point in bespoke tailoring is the client’s involvement in choosing the fabric, the materials, the suit’s feature and the fit. Generally, it’s a high level of customization and participation of the client all throughout the construction process.”

Ramirez thus thinks that Tino is in more of a business than just suits. “It’s the experience,” she said.

According to Ramirez, the first 6 to 8 months were the toughest, particularly in terms of cash flow. “It was essential to choreograph cash-flow properly, because even if sales were booming, inadequate cash-flow could bring the business down,” she said. “Our initial capital was not enough to feed the growth of the business, so we had to come up with strategies every now and then.”

Ramirez found ways to improve cash flow on several fronts. For one, they forecasted the cash input and cash output they expected for the first 12 months, and then monitored sales and reviewed them at the end of every month. The company also tried to strike better deals with their suppliers, in addition to longer payment terms.

Ramirez also made it a point to make sure that clients paid on time. “We became very conscious with our receivables,” she said. “We ensure prompt delivery of products and watch on receivables every day to ensure customers were paying on time.”

Expanding into Southeast Asia

Given that Tino deals with a high-end client base, many of whom are celebrities and would prefer their privacy, the company maintains a general policy of confidentiality over who it makes suits for. Yet in a surprising turn, Tino doesn’t have to do much bragging – some of their famous clients do it for them, evangelizing on the virtues of their bespoke suits.

“A great proof of this support was with Tino’s grand launching last April wherein some of our clients gave us the honor of having them as our models during the fashion show. They walked at the runway wearing their Tino suits and called themselves Friends of Tino,” Ramirez said, adding that many of their client-models also allowed Tino to feature them in promotional video as testimonials.

Because Tino observes such a strict code of confidentiality, and allows the celebrities to speak on their behalf rather than the other way around, their clients tend to become their biggest advocates. They discuss Tino to other people who might want their suits. “So far most of Tino’s clients are very open with helping us promote our services, maybe because they are happy with the result of our work,” Patti Veridiano, the PR consultant for Tino, said. “Most of them spread news about Tino through word of mouth and which is the most effective form of PR.”

Still, the Tino team does not discount the value of having a strong digital presence. “Having a strong digital presence is a must in any kind of business,” Veridiano said. “As business culture progresses, technology provides advantages to widen your reach and your market, pushing brands to adapt to the latest trends in using media platforms to convey its message to its public.”

Tino will need a strong message as it pushes to expand throughout the region. “Tino’s vision is to be the top-of-mind bespoke tailoring in South-East Asia by 2017,” Ramirez said. “Our short-term goal is to establish bases in several parts of the country, starting in Cebu by early next year. Aiming on nearby countries would be next.”

Part of Ramirez’s goal in growing Tino is supporting more tailors. She also wants to pay them above market rates, so that they are not able to just support themselves, but truly improve their quality of life.

“Our direction is to create an army of tailors who would change the image of tailoring industry in the country. At present, we have ten tailors who are already practicing bespoke tailoring,” she said.  

“I am very proud to say that all our tailors are home-grown, meaning my dad himself trained each and every one of them from level 1, and it took most of them three years to create one bespoke suit,” Ramirez continued. “Tino is always open to those who have the vision, passion, and patience for this craft.” – Rappler.com


Rappler business columnist Ezra Ferraz graduated from UC Berkeley and the University of Southern California, where he taught writing for 3 years. He now consults full-time for educational companies in the United States. He brings you Philippine business leaders, their insights, and their secrets via Executive Edge. Follow him on Twitter: @EzraFerraz