A Better Man, One Suit At A Time
James Siggers and Matthew Benjamin are the creators of Benjamin Siggers, the luxury menswear brand based in the UAE. Made in Italy using traditional methods and sustainable materials, their clothing displays an uncompromising commitment to quality. Passionate about providing transparency to their customers and giving back to the community, the duo is guided by respect and care for the environment, in everything they do.
The Pemberley: Tell me about your background.
Matthew Benjamin: I started in the industry 8 years ago, and then I moved here 6 and 1/2 years ago. I worked for the largest custom clothing company in the world and came here to set up an office. That’s when we met.
TP: What were your positions?
MB: I was general manager and he was sales executive or sales professional. But we were both going out and meeting clients, measuring and fitting them. Prior to that, I'd done an MBA in luxury management— I'd always wanted to work within luxury. When I started in London, my thoughts were focused on where the business could grow and expand, and Dubai seemed to be one of the best cities for that.
James Siggers: When I graduated, my first job was with a company in London and there was an opportunity to go to Dubai and build my clientele there, and that seemed more exciting than working in London. I was born in Australia, I lived in Hong Kong and Holland, and the idea of going away was something that I was considering. I began working with Matt immediately, and we decided to set this up over a year ago.
TP: Why have you decided to focus on the older gentleman?
MB: Because they can afford it, and because at that level and stage in their careers and lives, they don't generally have time to go to the shops. They also have an appreciation of the finer things in life.
TP: Who inspires you?
JS: I think for most of my life it has been my dad in terms of his success and the life he's had and what he's given us as a family. Fashion wise, I tried to mimic David Beckham for a bit, but people weren't buying it. He’s an Italian guy, he’s not flashy but he's bold, and has distinct features like huge lapels and sunglasses that match the color of his suit. I think he really gets it, he's fun and cool.
MB: Professionally, designer and entrepreneur Brunello Cucinelli is my inspiration. He started off making fifty cashmere jackets, and now makes five hundred million euros a year in sales. His whole philosophy was building a business on sustainability at its core and making what he called a fair profit. Obviously commercial enterprise is there to make money, but not at the expense of people. When they did an IPO and they were looking for investors, he was so fixated on the fact that they weren’t going to move production to India or Asia for it to be cheaper, because quality was the most important thing. And then he invested 10% or 20% of the profits in a foundation he set up that restored an Italian town and employed a lot of people who live there. For us, sustainability is the key to what we're doing, and so he's a massive inspiration both regarding vision and style.
TP: You're both obviously British. Why Italian style?
MB: Italian style isn’t as stiff and rigid as traditional British tailoring. Today, many brands are slowly moving away from that heavy canvassing, heavy shoulders and aggressive look. The Italian style is a bit softer, more unstructured and better for the climate. It's more difficult for a suit to look good when it's light, because you don't have the structure to hold it in place, but this is what we do and what makes us unique.
TP: Are you both tailors?
JS: We measure and fit. We've been trained, but no, we don't make suits.
TP: Why is sustainability so important to you?
MB: It's like a simple quote I saw the other day: Sustainability is treating the earth like we intend to stay here. For me it's about doing it the right way, treating people the right way, paying people the right way and trying to be as environmentally friendly as possible. This is just as important, if not more important, than how the garment looks. If it looks great, but it causes loads of destruction along the way, then it defeats the whole purpose of it. So, for us, even as a small company, we felt we could do it better. Sustainability shouldn't be a separate topic— that is how things should be made anyway.
TP: What about the giving back program. What do you do?
MB: We agreed between ourselves that we would donate 2%. We decided to focus on water because so much water is used in the process of making garments and it’s the biggest area that we can impact. We look at how many people are without water around the world which is in the range of 600 million people. It takes approximately three years of water to make one t-shirt, which people buy and throw away.
TP: Do you wear suits every day?
JS: It depends who I'm seeing. If it's a banker or lawyer, I know they’ll be wearing a suit, so I'll put on a suit. But if I'm sitting with an architect, I'll dress a bit more casual— but we do wear tailored clothing every day. When we first started working out of my kitchen, we were wearing suits some days and shorts on others, and then we decided that even in the kitchen, we must wear suits to work.
TP: Why is suiting important to you?
MB: It changes the way people see you, and the way you show up to work; the version of yourself that you present. I got my first suit when I was 18 years old for only 200 pounds, but it was like my body armor. Any time I wore that suit I had an amazing day at work, if we went out for drinks, I had a great night. I wouldn't wear it style-wise today, but I still have it and love it because it gave me confidence. When a client puts on one of our suits, and it fits well and he feels how light it is, you can see how it changes his confidence. That's why it's important.
JS: Having a long back and long arms, I’ve always struggled to get a good fit— throughout the day I always needed to tuck in my shirt. Having suits made for you and not having to worry about details like that, knowing that you look good, changes everything about the way you go about your day.
TP: What are your biggest challenges?
MB: Educating people about why the details of suit construction are important, such as hand-stitching, a floating canvas etc. Our goal is to be as transparent and authentic as we can, in a market where there's sometimes a lack of authenticity and transparency. Luckily, we work in an environment where we go out and meet people, and so we can educate and show them what makes us stand apart. People want to feel that they are making good decisions— so if you give them a reason as to why something is a good purchase, they will grab it. But if that reason isn’t necessarily true, it can be an uphill battle in some cases. Nobody wants to feel that they made a bad decision, or that they're being ripped off.
TP: Why would someone leave their tailor and come to you?
MB: Most men we speak to don't have a tailor— they shop off the rack. But they would come to us for the fit, the selection, the service, and the expertise as well.
JS: Like fine wine, men become more experienced with age. They become more worldly, advanced in their careers and purchase nicer things, such as a house or car. Clothing is just one of those things to improve in. You may have purchased your suit from one place 10 years ago, but the progression to something better is natural.
TP: What's a typical day for you?
JS: Wake up, go to the gym, and then Matt and I try to meet at 8. Between 9 to 2 we’ll be out seeing clients, delivering clothes and prospecting new customers. We return to the office at 3 and then we’re busy with phone calls until about six or seven. I usually see customers in the evening at their homes, sometimes until 9 or 10. I prefer the night appointments because it's a bit more relaxing, there’s more time to sit and talk, and it's a good time to sell.
TP: Outside of tailoring, do you have other interests or hobbies?
MB: I love sports. I used to play a lot of cricket growing up, and I play some golf. To be honest, a lot of time is spent working, because with a start-up, there's a lot to do. Our business takes priority now.
TP: What's the most rewarding part of your job?
MB: When we deliver the clothing and see the client’s face in the mirror, and his wife comes in and says, “Oh my God, I've never seen you look so good!” That's a great feeling.
JS: In terms of our supply chains, when we go to Italy and meet the guys we work with, the hands behind the brand, who are like part of the family. Seeing that they're happy, that they enjoy what they do and have a passion for it, has been very rewarding. The developments that we’re making with the supply chain, with the organic materials that we’re sourcing for organic cotton shirts and organic silk ties— this is something that no other company is doing and brings us great satisfaction.
TP: What are your plans?
MB: We are focused on building the office here, and we're about to hire two business guys to join the team. We want to become the Kings of Dubai, to first conquer the Middle East and then places in Europe and maybe the USA.
TP: Everyone says they want to conquer Dubai. How will you do it?
MB: Firstly, by providing the best product and service, and outdoing everyone on that level. The other is through the materials that we offer. Dubai is a great place to start, because it's a good springboard, but this will be our approach for every place. We want to be the address for the person who wants a suit made sustainably from sustainable material. There are many big companies out there, but for them to pivot to do that, is just completely unnatural, because they would have to change so much in their supply chain. We're building this from the ground up, with that specifically in mind. We believe that if you give someone the choice of having something made in the right way, that doesn't take advantage of people, and doesn't damage the environment, at a price which isn't prohibitive, then why would they not choose that? The more people for whom we can provide that choice, the greater the chance of us taking over.
TP: But most of the people who buy suits are capitalists, and they don't care.
JS: It’s about people feeling that they've done the right thing, feeling good about how they spend their money. True, they may jump in a Ferrari— something you might consider unsustainable— but it's making them feel good and it's doing good. We want to make them feel good in their clothes, but we also want to be able to do good at the same time— and these things can work together. We can make them feel good, not just in the clothing, but in the purchase, and still be a profitable company. There’s no need to choose between the two.
TP: I love your website. I love seeing the videos from the Italian craftsmen.
JS: Thank you. We think it’s important to show the people behind the scenes.
TP: What is your price range?
JS: Six and a half thousand Dirhams, up to whatever you want to spend really. Some suits that have 20 carat gold in them can be up to 80,000. Most guys spend in the range of 10,000.
TP: What does luxury mean to both of you?
MB: When I did my MBA, the last project was about the meaning of luxury, and I thought then, and I still believe now, that luxury is time. Time is the biggest luxury in the world, because you can't get it back. If you can save people time or give them clothing that will allow them to have a good time, then that's the ultimate luxury.
JS: Time, but also exclusivity, and something that's made bespoke for you. Complete individuality.