case study: english cut

I’m speaking today at the “Social Network Tools & Their Business Application” conference in London. The title of my talk is: “Case Study: Using Blogs to Create a Global Micro-Business”. I’ll be talking about English Cut, and how it transformed Thomas’ tailoring business and educated his customers.
The story of how Thomas, myself and later, New York PR maven Dave Parmet started working together was wonderfully re-told in Naked Conversations:

MacLeod says he “started filling Mahon’s head with Cluetrain and blogging stuff,” and slowly Mahon got interested. “We started thinking that if Mahon could talk about tailoring on a blog about the same way that Seth Godin talks about marketing, then the people who care will see it. Mahon wouldn’t try to sell suits on the blog. Instead, he would show his knowledge and love of the craft. He would explain the labor, and materials involved and why the cost of each suit was justified.” The idea was that the people who cared either about suits or how a master craftsmen creates them would find their way to the site.

My father remarked to me the other day, “I bet you had no idea in the beginning that the blog would work as well as it did, eh?”
True, I had no idea. But looking back, we had a few things going for us.

1. A great product. Thomas is one of the best tailors in the world. His suits REALLY ARE that good. If we were just selling commodified drek, I doubt if anyone would’ve paid much attention.
2. A unique story. When he started, Thomas was the only Savile Row tailor writing a blog, and this gave him a unique voice in the blogosphere. This fuelled the interest. Had masses of tailors already been blogging, it would’ve been much harder for his own unique “idea-virus” to spread. The first-mover advantage rule still applies.
3. Passion & Authority. Thomas has both in spades. That’s what kept people coming back. That’s what built up trust. That’s what turned his readers into customers. Which is why “Share what you love” is the best advice there is.
4. Continuity. He kept at it. He didn’t expect the blog to transform his fortunes overnight. As I’m fond of saying, “Blogs don’t write themselves”. Based on our experience, if you want blogs to transform your business, I’d say give yourself at least a year.
5. Focus. It was always about the suits. It was never about what he had for breakfast, Technorati rank or frothy gossip about other bloggers.
6. Thomas spoke in his own voice. Thomas is a straightforward, affable fellow, and the voice on the blog is the same as the voice you meet in real life. He never tried to misrepresent himself on his blog, nor try to create some over-glamorized image of his profession. He just told it like it is. And people responded well to that. As he once put it, “We’re so lucky we don’t have to create the brand out of thin air. We just tell the truth and the brand builds itself.”
7. Sovereignty. The only people we had to please were the two of us. No bosses or outside investors to keep happy. Bosses and investors like guarantees, but there aren’t any.
8. We were both broke when we started. Had we had masses of money at the beginning, we would have had a lot more options on how to get the word out. In all likelihood, these options would have been a lot more expensive and not nearly as effective. Sometimes lack of capital is a definite advantage.

A blog is a great way to build one’s own personal “global microbrand”. As the Job-For-Life no longer exists, as the value of the social “position” erodes and the value of the “project” takes its place, personal brand development becomes far more important to one’s career. Blogs are a good place to start.
Hey, if a Savile Row tailor can do it, what’s your excuse?


  1. Too true Hugh, and boiled down so eloquently by someone you once quoted to me in ‘share what you love’
    Good luck at the conference today.

  2. Good luck toay Hugh – I’m keen to know *how* you are presenting the story? Dreaded PowerPoint, using cartoons, or just wingin it with the best of ’em? :)

  3. Umm, I don’t have an ultra-luxury product sold to the very well-off, with a super-high barrier to entry in the market, that’s effectively advertised with “lifestyle porn”?
    If you do fulfill all those conditions – GO FOR IT! Blogging has great potential for you!
    For everybody else, well, what you’re being sold is a bill of goods.

  4. Yes, Seth, having stuff people want to read and selling stuff people actually want to buy does factor into it.
    Just like the real world, imagine that 😉

  5. Well, I have no excuse. I try to do it. And thats why this summary of yours is very important and useful for me. I just started, as you can see in my blog.
    Especially the “Focus” point is important to me and a thing that needs improvement, I´m afraid. You are wellcome to take a look, though.

  6. Question: How do we engage with the Luddites – my definition not their’s – and those not engaged with new media.
    I think what you’ve done is fantastic – for English Cut and Stormhoek – and hope the conference went well, but I do wonder sometimes whether traditional media really get it and, I confess, I suppose I was a Luddite for a long time too. However, I do struggle over how we bring the two world’s together. When we launched it was an act of faith – or, as you would say an “act of love”, and, largely inspired by your experiences.
    But there is an element of Us and Them in the debate at the moment and I wonder how we overcome that among those who embrace the new technology and those,for the time being, who hate it. Wensleydale has 160 staff and we have not be able to convice them to go to the blog and post a comment or opinion – inspite of the fact that I have told them they can say anything they like including one guy (their best worker) who is deaf and dumb. What a great story! Management love it too but I have to bully them to blog as well.
    I love the potential of blogs, web 2.0 etc – but there are still a lot of people out there who are blissfully unaware of what’s happening in our world.
    How do we engage with them? Press Releases? Media Briefings? Lunch with CEO?
    It doesn’t all tie up at present. Answer please.

  7. “For everybody else, well, what you’re being sold is a bill of goods.”
    Maybe not… I’ve heard from lots of people inspired by Hugh’s “global microbrand” thing who’ve had much success with it without meeting the rich-person/high-barrier-to-entry criteria (a cowboy and a one-woman jewelery maker are two examples). And I certainly wouldn’t consider my programming books in the category of “lifestyle porn”, but paying attention to Hugh’s list has been more useful and successful (not to mention fun and rewarding) than I could have imagined.
    Do *we* really have control over whether we’re successful or not? Not quite… the REAL “gatekeepers” are now our readers/users/customers. THEY are the ones who decide whether we have something worth their time, effort, money, etc. What we *can* control is how much we respect, listen to, and care about them, coupled with the ways in which we demonstrate that.
    Thank-you Hugh!

  8. Having plodded through your archives over the past few weeks, I find this as fine a definition as you’ve yet created to explain your endeavors.
    During my time in your archives, I’ve made a few notes to myself about puting your theories into action. What’s attractive is that I want to make a home stand in the small Midwestern (USA) town from which I hail.
    You’re in Cumbria these days, not London or New York where you’d been slave to prior. Bravo to that.
    My hope is to do the same. I call it “minding the store,” and in my notes, I point out that “minding the store” has traditionally meant that we stay behind or close to our geographical roots for something we refuse to relinquish. Traditionally, this has meant that we give up opportunities elsewhere in order to remain with the familiar or family ties.
    Cumbria ain’t Texas, my friend. But it need not be. In the last few days I’ve set in motion a way to make the home stand. It’s a bit of global microbranding and a bit of asking what I’m worth from the diminished bargaining point of telecommuting.
    With luck you’ll hear back.

  9. While I’ve gotta love the “lifestyle porn” comment above for pure cheek 😉 ha! … blogging and the micro-approach can be (is) a powerful human-scale combo for communicating meaningfully and effectively.
    Why, just take a quick peek over at a few blogs like these to understand the (non-luxury) opportunity. Blended with micro-preneurship like Lesedi … wow!
    And, you know, what’s wrong with a little luxury in our lives? Especially when it hasn’t been marked up 800% and depersonalized … passing through impersonal, byzantine corporate channels.
    Have fun!

  10. As someone who was in the audience when Hugh gave this talk, I’d like to thank him for speaking straight, with passion and authority. What Hugh says makes for a successful business-generating blog is also true for any effective communication. Like his blog, he spoke from the heart with conviction and knowledge. As a result, he got my vote as the top speaker there and should do it more often.

  11. Very useful tips, Hugh. You have also captured very well the thrust of English Cut. Tell you what, the 8 items above has me thinking of how I can improve my blog to please and help (in some ways) my readers. So, thank you! :)

  12. […] Row tailor Thomas Mahon with his English Cut blog – I would have referenced him (courtesy Hugh MaccLeod) back in 2005 in my “How and why to start a blog” pitch.  In another way I was […]