Technology is replacing all sorts of jobs. Maybe tailors should be worried, too.
A man looking for a new suit to wear to work, or a tuxedo to wear to his wedding, now has high-tech opportunities that can substitute a traditional visit to the tailor. Upstarts like Acustom Apparel and Alton Lane invite customers into stores to then take 3D body scans and digitally measure suit sizes. The Gay Giano tailor, a “robot tailor” in Hong Kong, takes just 10 seconds to capture 120 measurement points and project a digital rendering of a customer’s body shape.
“Taking technology that exists and repurposing it for the fashion world is the best way to update the archaic way the apparel industry has been operating for decades,” said Christopher Bevans, a designer and MIT Media Lab fellow who has worked for Nike, Billionaire Boys Club and Rocawear.
In a January interview with Reuters, Gay Giano owner Matthew Lee said the inspiration for the robot tailor came from a sense of a stalled industry. “There’s a huge disconnect between these traditional craftsmen or craftswomen and the next generation,” he said. “There’s no one taking over. So we felt that, if that’s the case, it’s either a dying trade or we can revitalize it with technology.”
Digital advances have pushed the apparel industry to be more efficient in numerous areas. Nike and New Balance are using 3D printing to tailor shoes to individual customers’ feet. E-commerce menswear retailer Bonobos opened showrooms instead of stores to give customers a chance to try sizes on in person while shopping from a complete, navigable online selection. With 3D scanning, those fittings become smarter.
Tailoring in the future may not even require that a customer enter a store at all, whether it’s to get measured by tape or infrared sensor. Fashion Metric, a company that created an algorithm for smart sizing, is working with online-only retailer SnapSuits to cut out in-person visits and deliver accessible custom-made suits in under two weeks. SnapSuits’ offerings begin at $250 (whereas an Acustom Apparel suit runs between $950 and $1150, and Bonobos, $600).
“The made-to-measure space gives the customer the ability to create custom clothing, but that has been brick and mortar only,” said Fashion Metric co-founder and CEO Daina Burnes Linton. “There’s been a bottleneck in not capturing body measurements accurately online because at-home self measurements are error prone.”
Before its partnership with Fashion Metric, which was announced earlier this week, SnapSuits showed customers a video to instruct them to do at-home measurements that would inform their online suit orders. CTO Drew Leahy thinks that with Fashion Metric’s data, more men will be willing to order suits online.
“Most consumers are lazy,” said Leahy. “If you have to go into the store and get a scan or get fitted, it can take a lot of energy, so inputting what you know about your size and creating a 3D body model is the easiest experience for a consumer.”
Fashion Metric’s algorithm, which is used after a customer feeds in very few data points — height, weight, shoe size — likely can’t replace the need for a tailor entirely, if the customer wants the best fitted suit, however.
“What the algorithm gives you is a good block and starting point,” said Bevans. “But you always need that final nip and tuck to get the right detail. I say that the industry needs technology with a tape measure around its neck.”
After a customer fills out the SnapSuits survey and gets a model of their suit fit, the retailer creates a member profile and saves that information. The same goes for Acustom and Alton Lane: once you go through the fitting process once, the company stores your size to the profile which can be pulled up online, in store or on mobile, making future orders easier. Fashion Metric’s API has other uses that can streamline online shopping and take some of the guesswork out of sizing, like creating smart size charts and product pages that can be filtered by best fit data.
For companies outside of the new players shaping digital fittings, be it Prada or Men’s Wearhouse, Bevans said that technology will be slow to catch hold, but that the potential for improving conversion rates could be most convincing.
“Overall, it will be a slow total change,” said Bevans. “But I do believe that the more we understand that what we can do with this is going to make people’s lives easier, the more it will catch on. If a company has your digital body scan on file, you can make a purchase in one click.”