We're talking about Bespoke suits, which are hand-crafted, usually require three fittings (that's after a long consultation), and can take months to finish. (Bespoke means made to a buyer's specification.) They look great, of course, with the jacket perfectly molded to the body, but the customer base is not large enough these days to make it a lucrative business. From Adam Davidson in the NYT magazine:
As I watched Peter Frew work, it became glaringly obvious why he is not rich. Like a 17th-century craftsman, he has no economy of scale. It takes Frew about 75 hours to make a suit -- he averages about two per month -- and he has no employees. A large part of his revenue is used to pay off his material expenses, and because his labor is so demanding, he relies on an outside salesman, who requires commissions. (Frew can't even afford to make a suit for himself. When we met, he was wearing shorts and a T-shirt.) While he hopes to one day hire full-time assistant tailors and rent a Manhattan showroom, he knows it will be a huge challenge to get there.
Bespoke suits are like couture gowns: A good way to build your rep, but a bad way to make good money. Custom suits, which are known in the business as made-to-measure, provide more profitable opportunities.
Customers can go to a third-party boutique, like J. Press, to pick a fabric and be measured. The cloth and measurements are then sent to Brooklyn, where patterns are created, fabric cut and then sent through the production line of cutters and tailors. Just as Adam Smith described in "The Wealth of Nations," there are huge efficiency gains when one complex process is broken down into constituent parts and each worker specializes in one thing. At Greenfield, one worker sews pockets all day long, and another focuses entirely on joining front and back jacket pieces. The labor involved in each suit's construction is about 10 hours. The suits Greenfield makes typically retail at around $2,000.