This Designer Turns Your Life Into Custom Suit Lining

Ammar Belal is taking a new approach to men's suits by using his clients' digital imprints to come up with custom suit linings.
November 17, 2019, 1:30 PM UTC
For anyone dreaming of a better bespoke experience, finding a tailor that has a habit of thinking outside the lines may just be the gift for which you’ve been seeking.
Boris Sharapan Fabrikant, Esq.
Subscribe to Well Adjusted, our newsletter full of simple strategies to work smarter and live better, from the Fortune Well team. Sign up today.

If ordering a bespoke suit this holiday season brings to mind Scotch, cigars, and other distractions so that a stranger can size you up, Ammar Belal’s approach to custom tailoring will change your perspective. A tailor by trade—not to mention a professor at Parsons School of Design in New York City and founder of the mission-driven brand One432—Belal is in the unique position of being able to handpick his clients.

And while Belal’s service might be lacking in leather couches and the scent of Montecristos, the camaraderie that develops between the tailor and his clients is genuine. By the time his suits are ready, Belal has not only designed his client’s life in threads, he’s also created a friendship that’s as durable as the fine materials he’s using.

From Pakistan to Parsons

Though I’ve just met Belal, it’s easy to see how his outgoing personality gives life to the stoic reputation of bespoke tailoring. Even Parsons’ unflappable security guard lights up when Belal arrives to greet me at the entrance, his status bordering on celebrity as I’m given a tour of the building. As we settle into a quiet classroom for our conversation, it becomes evident that Parsons is where Belal feels most inspired.

The Boston native’s interest in fashion design started at a young age. His father was a manufacturer of sportswear brands in the U.S. “I grew up with a vocabulary of seeing and smelling clothes being made,” recalls Belal. “I’m one of the weird or unique Pakistanis. I definitely represent a counternarrative to the Pakistan most people see and understand.”

Ammar Belal

Starting his first company at age 21—when he admittedly didn’t how to sketch clothing but was nonetheless determined to make a name for himself—Belal began his career by upcycling discarded denim under the label ABCD. Making jeans eventually grew into a line of streetwear, which expanded to a full lifestyle menswear brand in Pakistan under his own name by the time the designer was in his early thirties. “We grew so big, we had to outsource. I would walk into an Italian manufacturing facility, and they couldn’t believe somebody in Pakistan was a buyer,” Belal recalls of the traditional narrative that existed in the manufacturing world.

However, at the peak of his success, Belal felt his creativity had been stifled by the demands of his business. The designer had moved away from what he enjoyed the most about fashion: talking to friends about what they liked and being able to create clothing for them. Taking a step in a new direction, Belal applied and was accepted into the Parsons master’s program, one of 18 students from around the world. “I was their wild card. I was the business guy who came into an extremely conceptual degree,” Belal says.

A bespoke men’s blazer lined with an illustration of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Boris Sharapan Fabrikant, Esq.

Belal persevered through the rigors of the esteemed program and developed from an unproven wild card to Parsons’ ace in the hole. Upon completion of his degree, the school persuaded him to stay on as a professor. “As soon as I started teaching, I fell in love with it,” Belal says. The designer started going back to Pakistan and teaching for free in order to provide those without access to quality education a viable solution. As he scaled down his retail operation, Belal wanted the employees he had come to identify as family to continue their working relationship, and he transitioned into custom clothing.

However, instead of upcycling jeans, Belal used his newfound experience as an academic and proven businessman to send an equally impactful message: making clothes in pursuit of a mission is priceless by design.

Giving back, one step at a time

One of the greatest lessons Belal learned during his studies at Parsons was how he could both be inspired by and give back to Pakistan, which is where the concept of One432 was born.

One432 shares 50% of net profits from each of the shoes it sells with the artisans who craft them, and profits additionally fund children’s educational initiatives in Pakistan. Separate from One432, the tailors who are part of Belal’s custom design operation also make a substantial commission from what they sell. This group of tailors, who have been working with him for over 15 years, formed a profit-sharing structure that has enabled them to buy houses and provide for their families in a way that would be difficult under a traditional ownership hierarchy. “It’s completely the antithesis of how global manufacturing is done,” Belal explains.

A series of shoes designed by Belal.
Ammar Belal

Trusting the process

What makes Belal’s service particularly unique is that he’ll make anything a client wants and produce it himself. From swimsuits to bathrobes, there isn’t an item Belal and his company can’t make.

So how does one come into contact with Belal and embark on his unique tailoring experience? For Boris Fabrikant, an associate real estate broker, having a friend who referred him to Belal was his point of entry. In fact, having a friend who can speak to your qualities is the only way anyone might have the chance to work with Belal owing to the limited number of clients he can accommodate, which typically ranges from about seven to 10 people a month.

“He is the artist, and I am just a source of information for him about my life,” Fabrikant says.
Boris Sharapan Fabrikant, Esq.

Belal’s measurement process is significantly more detailed than that of a typical tailor, yet feels more like a series of casual hangouts than a standard fitting. “At the first meeting, Ammar emphasized the importance of learning everything about me,” Fabrikant says. Those details included not just what Fabrikant was looking for in terms of a comfortable suit, but what he typically carried in his pockets and what memories he cherished most. Those images included photos of Fabrikant’s daughters, the Brooklyn Bridge, and a Rothko painting—all of which made their way onto the lining of the suit jackets Fabrikant ordered.

Belal’s approach also includes cutting the sleeve to match the natural curve of your arm, as well as providing adjustments should any measurements change over time. The relationship isn’t one-sided either: As Belal finds inspiration in every piece he makes, the conversations he has with clients become further catalysts for his creative process. “If you can dream it, you can do it,” Belal affirms.

More must-read stories from Fortune:

Cannabis dos and don’ts from an etiquette expert
—How neuroscientists are capturing the aromas of Montreal
—What happens to the clothes forgotten at the dry cleaner?
—Do fashion collaborations actually make restaurants money?
Smart kitchens need smarter ideas to solve real problems
Follow Fortune on Flipboard to stay up-to-date on the latest news and analysis.