Bernard’s Bespoke: How to Grow a Clothing Business

As Shakespeare wrote, “Apparel oft proclaims the man.” Bernard Burger believes passionately in that sentiment.  He’s built a successful business making fine clothing for many of the best dressed men in Los Angeles.

Bernard’s Bespoke was founded in 1994 and is run exclusively by Bernard. The term Bespoke means something made to order as in "a bespoke suit".

 

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A second-generation clothier, Bernard cut his teeth working for his father, a high-end lady’s wear manufacturer.

“I ran around downtown LA working with clothing contractors and learned the manufacturing business.”

Bernard doesn’t actually sew himself, he’s a custom clothing designer, and an expert fitter, a private clothier and is a master at crafting the perfect looks for his clients. He learned the men’s clothing business helping to manage a very renowned high-end Beverly Hills men’s retail clothing store, frequented by customers like Ronald Reagan, Frank Sinatra and members of the Kennedy family. When that store closed in 1991, Bernard moved on to direct sales efforts for a small custom clothing company. That office relocated, and Bernard struck out on his own to establish Bernard’s Bespoke, Inc.

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Known for his beautiful, custom suits and sport jackets, Bernard also makes custom made shirts and slacks. Provides fine Italian shoes, belts, neckwear and outerwear to complete the prefect looks for his clients. He’s a one man show handling everything from making the initial consultation appointment, showing cloth and design, taking initial measurements, through doing final fittings.

“I’ve been very fortunate to work with Southern California’s most affluent people. Some of my early clients still buy from me and have become billionaires in that time. They expect the best and I provide it. Their wives often encourage their husbands to work with me.  It removes their responsibility, or they can help select cloth, and gives them “license to spend on their own clothes,” he laughs.

Most Bernard’s Bespoke clients come through personal referrals, but he does employ other marketing techniques.

“I have a relationship with a local Mercedes Benz dealer. When a car of a certain price is purchased, the customer receives a letter for a gift of a custom shirt or blouse at no cost. It’s brought us a number of excellent clients.”

A quote by a fashion icon Oscar de la Renta sums up Bernard’s overall purpose when working with clients:

"Fashion is about dressing according to what’s fashionable. Style is more about being yourself."

“My goal with my clients is to help them develop their own individual style, and project it in the clothing they wear,” he says.

He visits clients in their home or office with fabric samples from renowned cloth houses located worldwide. His suits, jackets and pants are crafted primarily by a top custom maker in New York.

Bernard currently has around 200 active clients and an additional 500 he works with from time to time.

“Forty or so clients make up the core of my volume. Ten or less are responsible for over 30% of it.”

He’s very established in the Los Angeles legal community.

“High stakes legal firms billing clients seven figures a month need clothing that reflect their clients,” he says.

Those clients are very busy, but some also live and breathe clothing. Bernard works hard to keep up with the ever-changing landscape of high end menswear. He subscribes to top style and fashion magazines, follows popular blogs and scrutinizes trends on Pinterest and Instagram.

“My distinctive look is achieved through a variety of custom fabrics. Slacks that coordinate with a jacket perfectly and would be hard to find in ready-to-wear. I have books with over 150 colors, so we can get the best shade of slack to use. The right pocket square is very, very important as well.”

 

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Despite his high-end offerings, Bernard’s Bespoke is competitively priced.

“My customers don’t want to feel like they’re being taken advantage of. They can set a budget of what they’re comfortable spending. Once I’ve established their comfort zone, it’s very difficult for competitors to take my clients away.”

To get started, Bernard self-funded his business.

“It’s wasn’t a lot of investment up front because I don’t carry much inventory per se. It’s one of the beautiful things about this business.”

He’s always operated from his home and that keeps operating costs down.

“I run my business lean and mean and have been looking to restructure debt and have more liquid cash. I get called by companies all the time to lend me money that have short term loans for a high cost.”

Bernard realized high cost funds wouldn't help him reach his financial goals.

“I got an old-fashioned mailer from SmartBiz Loans®. I’d considered an SBA loan before because of the low interest rate and longer terms. I understand that other companies have to charge a lot, but I didn’t want to go that route. I spoke with Zach (his SmartBiz Relationship Manager) and told him I was interested in an SBA loan. There were some hoops to jump through and requirements beyond what other lenders ask for, but Zach was terrific to work with. He helped make the process very easy and walked me through the application.”

He has solid plans for the use of low-cost funds from his SBA loan.

“I’ve already put the money to use by improving my website.”

The revamped - and beautiful - site is paying off by elevating his online profile and bringing in new customers.

“I’m currently looking for a social media consultant to help drive more traffic to my website.”

Bernard also used funds to order additional inventory and pay down existing high interest debt to improve cash flow. He’ll be impressing clients by ordering new samples he will wear himself to appointments.

“It helps me gain credibility and show the quality of my work.”

What’s next in his journey?

“People ask me about retirement and there are competitors who want to buy my business, but this is enjoyable to me. I get to go into fantastic homes, enjoy the people I work with, and have the creativity of putting together an entire look. Maybe I’ll retire in the next 7 to 10 years, but I’m having too much fun now.”

Client testimonials read like a love letter on his site. It’s clear that Bernard has found his creative niche and will continue to provide the impeccable service he’s known for.

If you’re located in the Los Angeles, Ventura, or Orange County areas in Southern California, and are in need of the finest in men’s custom-made clothing make an appointment with Bernard today. From initially talking on the phone to the finishing touches, you’ll know you’re working with the best.

 

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