An interview with Canada’s Shirtpal Co. (and an exclusive discount for Techvibes readers!)

When you think of what makes a good shirt, a few staple elements come to mind—the fabric, the stylings, and of course, the fit. Which is why a good shirt is typically purchased from a tailor, who carefully measures you for a custom fit, and allows you to handpick your choice fabrics, colours, and stylings on the cuff and collar. It was more common a few years back, though, as nowadays many people opt for ready-to-wear clothing, as opposed to the traditional made-to-measure garments. And it makes sense, on the grounds that ready-to-wear clothes are generally a fair bit cheaper.

But what if you could order made-to-measure, thoroughly customized shirts, and pay the price of ready-to-wear?

Well, let it be said that the Internet makes possible some wonderful things.

Canada’s own, Toronto-based Shirtpal Co. offers this very service to consumers. Winnie Cheung, and her colleague from the University of Western Ontario, Noorneet Singh, began researching the market at the turn of 2009. After investigating established industry giants like the Hong Kong-based Maxwell’s Clothiers, which was founded in the 1960s and drives sales through physically travelling the world to offer their products and their services, Winnie and Noorneet decided to develop their own similar business. 

Shirtpal Co. differentiates itself from Maxwell’s with a powerful online force—a well-designed website that offers all the customizability of an in-person tailor, right on your computer screen, similar to that of Vancouver-based Indochino. Shirtpal also attempts to break out from the pack by offering the best “user experience.”

“We put a huge emphasis on that,” Noorneet Singh said in a recent interview with Techvibes. He added, “We are working another angle for Shirtpal, where we have brought on image consultants. Their purpose is to provide advice and recommendations to customers. These recommendations are fully tailored to the individual. It’s based on their profession, what they currently have in their wardrobe, and what they prefer to wear.” These image consultants attend Shirtpal’s travelling “ShirtFest” events, where you can get an in-person taste for their product line (some of their upcoming Toronto-area events are listed here, here, and here). He also points out their strong customer service team. “Whenever a customer has an issue or concern, it is dealt with in a timely manner.”

Shirtpal began in Toronto but has since expanded, and looks to expand further still. “In Canada, we have operations in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver,” says Noorneet. “We are looking for potential franchisees in Calgary. And, internationally, we have operations in Sydney, Thailand, Japan, and Singapore. Currently, we are getting a lot of online orders from the U.S., so we are also actively looking for franchisees in the U.S.”

The company currently only offers custom shirts, but plans to broaden their range of products. “We are looking to get into Polo shirts, ties, and cufflinks,” Noorneet says. 

Shirtpal’s success has grown steadily since its inception, but Noorneet and co. haven’t let greed get to their heads. “Everyone at our company is very big on giving back to the community,” he notes. After his team started discussions on ways they can perform charitable deeds that utilize their internal resources, Shirtpal established a partnership with Buy1Give1, a charitable organization. Now, for every shirt that the company sells, they clothe and provide toiletries for a child in Mumbai. “Our goal is to provide clothing to approximately 25,000 children this year. We are all working very hard to meet this goal,” Noorneet says.

Noorneet and Winnie

Noorneet and Winnie holding some of their merchandise. Photo by Toronto photographer Nick Bicanic.

EXCLUSIVE: For you, dear readers, we have made availabale a Techvibes-exclusive discount for Shirtpal. Simply enter the coupon code TECHVIBES to receive 15% off your first purchase. The coupon code is also redeemable in person—just mention us! The coupon is valid until June 27, so you can redeem it right up to their final June event.

To see the steps involved in ordering a custom shirt from Shirtpal’s website, click below.

To get a true feel for custom-ordering a shirt online, I went through the process myself. Below, I outline the steps involved and offer my opinions, good or bad, on what Shirtpal has to offer.

On the front page of their website, you can view a gallery of options by selecting one of three main categories (Styles, Occasions, Colours), but I selected “Design your own” to test the custom options to their fullest.

You are a brought to their customization page, which may be a bit overwhelming at first, due to the array of choices immediately available at your fingertips. You start by selecting the colour or pattern of your shirt from a gallery of thumbnail swatches accompanied by brief descriptions of the fabric and its suggested purpose(s).  I was at first unimpressed, as the thumbnails lack detail, with many looking the same, and the descriptions a little too succinct to help you decide. However, by clicking on the zoom-in icon, which appears when you hover over a swatch square, you are given a high-resolution close-up of the fabric, along with an extended description. Here, you are able to see the fine details of the threads and its colours, patterns, and textures. 

Once you’ve selected the base colour for your shirt, you have the option of changing the colours of your cuffs, collar, and the insides of the cuff and collar. This is relatively unconventional, but also unique, and offers the fashion-savvy fellow an opportunity to be daring. Contrast a pattern with a complementary solid or vise-versa for a unique, fashion-forward look. You can also add a monogram onto the left cuff. The monogram is somewhat limited as it can only be 6 letters and is only available in white, black, and blue threading, but it’s still a neat option, and has no extra charge. The next step is to choose whether the shirt has one, or no pockets. Not much to say there, pretty simple. Again, no cost difference.

After that, you select the type of collar the shirt will have. There are four types, and each are accompanied with helpful descriptions. Following that, you select your cuff type. This time, you have six options. Descriptions are available for these too.

Now, the design of your shirt is complete, and it’s time to measure. If you feel you naturally fit well in ready-to-madies, Shirtpal offers a quick and easy Standard Measurements option, which lists off standard sizes and then lets you pick from a “slim,” “regular,” or “loose” fit in that size. But if you want the truly tailored look, select “Perfect Fit.” This option is where you either insert a tailor’s measurements, or have somebody measure you. The latter may sound like a mistake for a novice, but Shirtpal offers a “How to measure” option for every measurement you need, with written instructions and a clear photo. You’ll need to measure everything, from your neck to your chest to your biceps, hips, and more. Once you’re all measured up, you choose a Shoulder Type, Back Type, and Belly Type, which combine to identify your general body type, and add even further precision to your measurements. 

Paying (which will be around $55-75 per shirt—less with our discount!) is smooth and simple, but it can only be done via PayPal. Within PayPal, of course, you can use anything from debit to Visa to Amex, but if you’re looking to swipe your card without a PayPal account, you’re unfortunately out of luck for now.