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Fancy pants: My experience with custom chinos from Blank Label

Posted by Scott Kirsner  November 29, 2013 08:00 AM

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Director of client services Suzy Tepper, in Blank Label's Newbury Street showroom.

I've been tracking Blank Label since the apparel startup was born in 2009, on the campus of Babson College. From the beginning, the company's vision was to give men the opportunity to buy custom-tailored clothes at more affordable prices than they might have expected.

I checked out the Blank Label site when it first launched — but didn't wind up purchasing anything. (I wanted to know what kind of fabric the shirts were made of, and it didn't tell you.) But while researching a recent column about e-commerce companies opening brick-and-mortar showrooms in Boston, I stopped by Blank Label's third-floor space on the corner of Newbury and Gloucester Streets. And I decided to order a pair of $95 chinos — a product that Blank Label only recently started selling. (They're not yet available on the website.)

Blank Label decided to open up showrooms in Boston and Chicago (and next year, in Washington, D.C.) after it realized that many men were more comfortable buying custom apparel when they could try something on, touch the fabric, evaluate the different options, and get measured by someone who knows how to properly use a tape measure. And the showroom experience is pretty luxe: you make an appointment, you're the only client in the showroom, and you're walked through all of the choices (the company currently offers shirts, pants, and suits in its showrooms). Director of client services Suzy Tepper offers her advice; with her help, I picked out a pair of gray cotton chinos — a color I probably wouldn't have otherwise considered. Once I tried on a pair they had at the showroom, Tepper took my measurements, entered them into an iPad, and told me that I could come back to pick them up in two weeks. (Shirts are made in seven days, Tepper says.) I paid with a credit card.

blank2.jpgI really liked the in-person, low-key shopping experience at Blank Label's showroom. But what happened afterward left a bit to be desired. I never got the promised e-mail receipt; Tepper told me that chino orders hadn't yet been properly integrated into the company's system. Seventeen days after my visit to the showroom, I e-mailed Tepper to ask about the pants. She told me that it had been a busy fall, but that the pants would arrive in two days. The company invites customers to come back to the showroom to try on the merchandise, in case additional alterations are required. (Tepper also offered to mail the pants to my house.) We exchanged numerous e-mails to try to find a time when Tepper and I were both available. When I finally managed to get back to the showroom, the pants fit perfectly — but some stitching on a belt loop ripped as I was putting them on. Tepper told me that someone could fix that quickly. I went to eat lunch, then returned 45 minutes later to finally get the pants.

The pants are great — much better-fitting and more comfortable than any off-the-rack chinos that I own. But I have two quibbles with the process. First, it would be much more convenient if I could have scheduled my visits to the showroom online, rather than with a string of e-mails to Tepper. And second, with shirts, the company makes it possible to re-order additional ones online after you've been measured in the showroom. That feature isn't yet available with pants. "If you wanted to order another pair of chinos," Tepper explained in an e-mail, "you simply contact me and let me know what color you would like, make an appointment, or I would email you color swatches to assist you with color choices. Once decided, our tailors would make your chinos based on your previous chinos pattern."

Also, given that the pants were custom-made, it would've been nice to have some kind of personalized label or monogram or even a Blank Label tag on the inside. But the pants were totally unadorned, as was the gray shopping bag they came in.

Overall, I was happy with the final product I received— but I found the process to be more time-intensive than it needed to be.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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