Amidst a sea of Italian heritage brands, Savile Row mainstays, and trusted local tailors, Suit Supply has in the last decade gone from a small Dutch start-up to an international go-to for men looking to properly suit up. Besides its amenable price tag, convenient approach to tailoring, and refined quality, Suit Supply’s success can also be pinned on its marketing savvy. While menswear saw a “dapper revival” and brands got more personal thanks to social media, Suit Supply’s founder Fokke de Jong emerged as the media darling of a retail entrepreneur regular guys aspired to become – much like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, just dressed much better.
Behind the scenes, and only more recently stepping into the limelight, is Nish de Gruiter. Tall, dark, and handsome, he’s the Vice President of Suit Supply, but prefers to see himself as “the market maker”. Prior to “creating markets that didn’t exist” for Suit Supply, he worked with Italian designer Brunello Cucinelli; first in Solomeo, then in New York City. It was then that he met Fokke de Jong, who quickly scooped him up for expansion stateside.
Over the phone, Nish’s native Dutch accent is only barely perceptible. He’s energetic, expressive; our conversation had a kinetic quality to it, as though we were walking down one of Manhattan’s busy avenues as we chatted. He admits that this need to get up and do things has kept him mostly away from his office desk; instead he’s “the guy who goes out and about, looking for good press partnerships, brand alignment, new locations for stores”. As Nish described his job, there’s none of the humdrum corporate speak that you’d expect from the VP of a company with 40 international stores – and a new one opening in Tampa, Florida, this summer.
Instead, the man sounds just like a casual guy you want to have drinks with at a bar. He listens, and is ready always to answer questions. It’s central to Suit Supply’s business format, considering the fact that the marketing, public relations, and buying, all start from the individuals stores up through the organizational chain. “The stores decide because they know their markets better. Nobody from up top tells them what to do,” says Nish, who’s clad in a grey Suit Supply Red Line Hartford, a white shirt, and a linen pocket square with a brown trim. No tie. “It’s more of a business look because I have meetings today.”
Nish had just returned to New York from a trip to Singapore, and I was curious about his impression of how Singaporean men dressed. Below, you’ll find out more about that, what Nish truly enjoys the most, and of course, countless personal pointers from him on how to rock the casual dapper look. Oh, and a particularly embarrassing moment involving a Suit Supply race case and an airport in Detroit.
HIS STYLE DIARY: How did you arrive at this position as VP of Suit Supply? What was your career trajectory?
NISH DE GRUITER: I was working with Brunello Cucinelli for a long time. I lived in Solomeo. I got asked if I wanted to work for Cucinelli in the United States, which was a great opportunity. I had never been to New York, so it was quite the adventure. I was working with Cucinelli products – very high-end market, at the [high] end of the spectrum. He has a good story behind his products, but of course, you need a great story to sell a thousand dollar sweater.
What had happened was that I lost my suitcase once on my way to a wedding. I could not find a proper quality suit at a good price. I couldn’t find it. Suit Supply is a big name in Europe, especially in Holland where I’m from. Fokke [de Jong, founder of Suit Supply] was scouting out the market in the United States. We met a few times, and he asked me to come work for him in the United States. Having worked at a company like Cucinelli, joining a company that wouldn’t have the same quality of materials and the same aesthetic as Cucinelli was not going to happen. So that was for me a no-brainer to join Suit Supply. What they make is beautiful. The garments can’t be compared with anything else. It’s the best. Nice fabrics, good fit, good construction, you know, it sounded like a natural fit.
HSD: How did it all start in the United States?
NDG: When we started five years ago in the United States, we started with one shop. I was a jack of many trades, I was working on every aspect of the business. Over the years we’ve expanded to eighteen stores. We grew, and we started to figure things out that you are doing well, and things you’re not so good at. I’m not good at managing stuff. So I’m more the guy who goes out and about, on the road, looking for good press partnerships, brand alignment, new locations for stores. All the things on the commercial end. I call myself “market maker”, so I create a market that doesn’t exist. At Suit Supply there aren’t layer and layers [of top-down management], it’s the other way around. The marketing, PR, buying, all of these are supported by the stores. The stores decide because they know the market better. Somebody from up top doesn’t tell them how to sell.
HSD: Are you at all involved with design?
NDG: I throw my ideas out there, definitely. I love it, I’m a product guy. I really like to talk to the designers. It’s a collaborative effort, really. I love wearing suits but I love to see the many ways people wear them. For example when I was in Singapore – it’s so hot and humid out there, but people dress up. I get ideas from the way guys dress out there. Nice cotton pants, buttoned Henley or a polo, it’s lightweight. They definitely know how to wear their suits in their weather. I learn from it, and I say to the guys running the stores say, in Miami – there are different ways!
HSD: It is hot and humid in Singapore, and guys tend to use that as an excuse for dressing sloppily. What’s the trick to looking elegant yet casual, whether it’s in Miami or Singapore?
NDG: If you wear a suit and you want to layer, make sure the suit is not lined. If you wear a nice fabric like linen, make sure it’s unlined and comfortable. You can easily wear it with linen shirts or cotton pants. It works for that kind of weather. If it really gets hot, I like wearing a cotton suit with a t-shirt for a more casual outfit. I saw people dressing that way when I went out around Singapore. People were rocking that look, it was phenomenal. If you don’t want to wear linen all the time, a wool-mohair blend is perfect. Also, if you like three-piece [suits] – you don’t need to put the jacket on, and you still look the part.
HSD: Are you in favour of the trend of wearing shorts with suits?
NDG: It really depends on the situation, where you’re going. That’s not a look you can wear to the office. I went to Tanjong Beach Club, and I saw guys wearing shorts. If you wear a nice button down, and you’re on the beach and you wear shorts, I think you look pretty good. That works. The short-suit look is really for particular guys who can pull it off – they have to look very comfortable in it. But there are some stylish guys there who can rock that look. Not for everybody.
HSD: Do you think Singaporean men are stylish?
NDG: I saw a big group [of stylish guys] in the restaurants, the bars. I guess it depends on which kind of bars you go to, but people are very dressed up. They were stylish – absolutely. It shows, the amount of force that international brands [have concentrated on Singapore]. They’re not out there without a reason. People put a lot of effort in dressing well. Absolutely.
HSD: What prompted the decision to open a Suit Supply store in Singapore?
NDG: We had a big online presence. We tracked the ZIP code of the country we shipped the products to. There’re many expats in Singapore. They’ve moved to Singapore and they order suits online from us, and they start to advocate the brand locally. The suit business grew over time. That was for us the reason to open a store there.
HSD: And… how’s business?
NDG: Business is great. If you tracked the kind of products we sell – I thought we would be selling more casual wear, but in this case the suit is a very solid business. And then you see guys come in, they’re not very familiar with the brand, and they start buying the navy, the grey. Around that they start to build their collection, the cotton suits, the shoes, the casual shirts, linen pants, the nice cotton chinos… It’s absolutely a success.
HSD: What do you think made Suit Supply the success it is today?
NDG: We’re a vertically integrated retailer. That means that we produce, design, we do everything in-house. So there’s no middle man in between. We buy all our fabric at high-end mills, like Vitale Barberis, Ferla, E. Thomas. Then we ship our fabric to our factory, which puts a lot of effort into construction. Canvas interiors, working button holes… a lot of sartorial details. It goes directly from the factory to the store. Then once it hangs in the store, it can fit any size from size 32 to size 40, 50, long, short. It’s there.
When you try on a suit, first of all the guys who help you in the store are trained professionals, went to an internal suit school that we have to learn every aspect about the tailoring business. How to pin it, what kind of fabrics, how you have to tailor it. In every store we have a tailor in the middle of the store, who does 70% of the alterations while you wait. If you have to shorten your pants, shorten your sleeve, take the waist down, he can do it on the spot. So you have instant gratification. The guy who buys it – and guys generally don’t plan ahead – and if he needs something on the same day, you can turn it around fairly quick compared to how suit tailoring is usually done.
Overall it’s a very current model for guys who want instant gratification when they walk through the door. At the end the most important thing, when you own a Suit supply suit, you go to your office or out with your friends, it looks so good, and people are praising your outfit, you start naturally advocating the brand. It’s a walking billboard.
HSD: What are you wearing right now?
NDG: Grey Hartford suit, red line, so there’s a little bit of cashmere in it. It’s a more business look because I have some meetings today. I always like wearing a basic suit. Wearing grey socks, cognac double monk straps out of the new collection. A white shirt, and a pocket square with brown trim on it to break up the look. If I don’t wear a tie I always like to go around with a pocket square to add some flavor in it. Long grey socks. I always wear long socks under my suits.
HSD: So it’s 100% Suit Supply?
NDG: Yeah, 100%, all day every day. Well not every day, sometimes I mix other stuff in. But today yes.
HSD: What does personal style mean to you?
NDG: It’s something you feel comfortable in. It needs to work with your personality, that’s one. You have to feel what you wear. It’s like when women wear high heels. Either you feel comfortable in them, or you don’t. Same thing with the suit. When you’re wearing your first suit, try basics first. The more you get comfortable wearing a suit, the more you can go around that. Sometimes you see guys wearing very loud plaid, it’s not for everybody. The outfit you’re wearing shouldn’t be louder than your personality.
HSD: How would you describe your own style?
NDG: I like to always have a casual twist to things. I love to wear button down shirts and oxfords. When the weather starts to get a little hotter out here, I like to wear cotton suits with t-shirts. Three piece suits with t-shirts. It still looks formal but I give it a casual twist. I like to layer vests with crew-necks. Give it your own flavor. I’m a big fan of knit ties, they also make an outfit more casual. Sometimes I look for the oldest denim I have in my closet, and then I like to wear them with a nice pair of penny loafers, and a navy jacket and white shirt. Still classic! A very casual Friday look.
HSD: If you were a judge on a panel that decides if a man is well-dressed, what will be the things you look out for?
NDG: Fit. It’s all about fit. Listen, you can spend thousands of dollars on nice and expensive products, but if they don’t fit well, they still don’t look good. So I always go for proportion, sleeve length, jacket length… these are the major keys in fit. It should work for your body. It’s a huge myth that if you’re a smaller guy to wear your suit bigger to hide your body… no. It’s all about getting your shoulder right, the length of the pants, the sleeves. These are all key items. You can basically wear everything, if you combine them well and if the fit is done well. You will always look the part.
HSD: If there is one style rule you can impose on everyone, what would it be?
NDG: [long pause] It sounds artificial [for me to say], but… you should dress comfortably. People should dress in ways they are comfortable with. If you put something on, and it makes you feel comfortable, you look in the mirror you stand taller, you feel secure, you feel good, and it shows. I have a double breasted suit in the closet, and I always liked it. But every time I put it on, I feel it’s not me. I always try it, and I see it on other guys and I think wow it’s looks so good but when I put it on… I’m not feeling it. It doesn’t show well. In the last few weeks I gave it away. I see the guy I gave it to wearing it and it looks ten times better on him. I’m happy! You also have to let loose of pieces that don’t work or have had their run. I recommend it to everybody. Don’t hoard clothes. Getting rid of stuff gives you new ideas.
HSD: Any pet peeves?
NDG: I cannot stand people wearing a single-barrel cuff as a double-barrel cuff. It’s something I hate. It’s a big miss. What I also don’t like is when people wear the wrong socks under their suit. Sometimes I see short socks or different colors…. It throws me off big time if the socks you’re wearing don’t match. People think they’re really put together well, and their socks just… it’s terrible! I don’t like that for a single second. If you’re wearing a grey suit, you wear grey socks. If you wear navy, navy socks. Black suit, black socks.
And I think if you’re wearing a nice suit, your belt and the shoes work together. Your shoes should be polished. All these are small details, they play together well in the whole outfit. If you have a brand new suit and you take out an old crumbly belt, the whole thing just looks off. Get your shirt properly ironed! If you want to present yourself in a good way, make sure these things are on point!
HSD: What is one wise maxim you hold dear?
NDG: Style is something that you whisper, and not scream. How about that? It’s something that I go by always.
HSD: Besides menswear and Suit Supply, which I shall assume is one of them, what are your other loves or obsessions?
NDG: I love watches. Which guy doesn’t? [laughing] My favourite destination is home – with the kids and my wife. In the weekend, when I get home to my two-and-a-half-year old daughter and my 9-month old son, I just love to spend time with them and my wife, just do stuff. It’s something I enjoy the most.
HSD: Could you recount to us a particularly memorable incident in which you felt utterly embarrassed?
NDG: [laughing] Well, you know we have this thing called the Race Case. Did you see it on the website? We have a trolley, it’s called a race case. A [skate] scooter. It’s a pretty cool thing. You can go really fast on it through the airport, especially in those huge terminals in the United States. It’s so cool. But a few months ago I was going fast through the Detroit airport, fully decked out in my suit. There was a bump between the tiles… I just went flat out – boom – suit and all, hard on the floor. I was going so fast and next moment I was lying down on the floor with my suit like, ughhhh this sucks. But it’s still one of my favorite items for travelling in our collection. Every guy should get it. It’s the coolest thing.
HSD: One last thing – any tips for our readers?
NDG: The suit does not make someone a gentleman. Everything around it makes you a gentleman. If you wear a suit, open doors for ladies. Be nice. It’s 360 degrees. It’s in your behavior.