Toronto-based Michel’s Bespoke, which specializes in custom shirts and suits, has pivoted its business because of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic and is now making and selling custom face masks to consumers.
Paul Di Palma, Chief Operating Officer of Michel’s Bespoke, said when the company had to close because of government restrictions on business it knew it wasn’t going to make sales because people wouldn’t be looking for luxury bespoke clothing at this time.
“We realized we have sewing machines and a ton of fabric. It actually started with people coming to us to ask for cotton. So we donated quite a bit at first to different people who came to us,” said Di Palma.
“And then it just kind of clicked for us that we could make masks ourselves. We had that capability here. We came up with the pattern. Came up with some ideas. Gathered all the materials because we didn’t have the elastic strings. We didn’t have the wire that we were putting in the nose piece. We took some time to get that. And then we perfected the masks that we’re pretty proud of.”
The company first opened in the early 1990s and now has two locations in Toronto. The original location is in North York on Chesswood Drive. In the beginning that store was just producing shirts but over the years it expanded the atelier and it makes suits there as well. In about 2017, it also opened a showroom at the former Thompson hotel residences on Stewart Street.
“Only the original location has the atelier where everything is made. The downtown showroom is just a showroom. People can come for fittings and appointments but nothing is made there,” said Di Palma.
Many businesses in Canada are pivoting. They have to keep some revenue stream generating some cash flow for them so they can pay for some of their fixed costs such as rent. What they’re doing is taking a close look at what they do, their resources and thinking of different ways they can utilize those resources to meet certain demands caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
For Michel’s Bespoke, making face masks was a natural fit.
“Every day you think about the impact that this is having and as a business owner you really are aware of the economic side of it as well. I’m sure everyone has a sense of that,” said Di Palma.
“But every day before this we would just shut the door and you just look forward to tomorrow and even if there’s hard times or economic struggles you know that at least you’re opening the door and working towards something.
“With this closure, at first, it was sad. It was hard for me to see Michel who is an immigrant, came here and started this business. Regardless of good times, bad times. Work. Work. Telling people they couldn’t come into work anymore was tough. But everyone wants to do something and get to work and when we found this opportunity that we could actually help and try to flatten the curve it was absolutely without a question let’s do this. Things obviously change. We’re not an atelier that’s making luxury clothing. We’re now making masks. It’s completely different but it’s something that’s helpful.”