Like a puppy, a plaid shirt is for life. It's a wardrobe staple, sometimes oversized, sometimes fitted, but always present. If you can keep it for years it makes sense to buy a good one, which is fortunate as what makes a plaid shirt good, also makes it expensive.
First, the fabric needs to be yarn dyed - not printed. The best plaids currently come from Japan, where the production of yarn dyed fabric for kimonos has developed into an art form, and initiatives such as Banshu-Ori try to keep this tradition alive. The factories use old narrow looms and output is semi-artisanal, with rolls only around 60m long. With such small runs, you are unlikely to see many others in the same shirt and the fabric is unusable for mass marketers who need thousands of identical shirts from every run. That's the good news.
The bad news is the fact that the fabric is narrow means that a perfectly matched shirt will use as much a 3 meters per garment. And what is perfectly matched? It means that the pockets, placket, side seams, yoke, cuffs etc. all look as if they are the same piece of fabric- there are no breaks in the plaid along the respective seams. This is very time consuming to cut out, and very time consuming to sew. First, pattern placement must be plotted very carefully so that when the pieces are sewn together they all match perfectly but as little fabric as possible is wasted in the process, or the cost becomes prohibitive. Actually cutting the fabric out is another herculean task. For standard shirts, 300 can be cut in 2 hours, for matching plaid, only 20 can be cut at a time. Putting the shirt together takes much longer too as the seamstress must check constantly as she sews, to ensure that the two pieces of fabric have not slipped out of alignment.
Because it is so lengthy and time-consuming not all factories are willing or able to produce a top notch plaid shirt, as we have discovered to our cost. We planned to produce our Japanese plaid shirts in Portugal and got as far as the pre-production sample stage before the wheels fell off the bus. If you look at the photograph above you will see quite clearly that the yoke is mismatched. This happened on every single one of our samples, despite the fact that we had provided 3.5m of fabric per shirt - just to be sure!
So €500 of fabric and five months wait produced absolutely nothing. We have had to search out new agents with new suppliers who are actually capable of producing the finest quality shirts. It seems these don't exist in Portugal; we have been searching Italy and we think we have found them, so watch this space...