Digital Tailors Start Sewing Up the Custom Apparel Market

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Digital Tailors Start Sewing Up the Custom Apparel Market

In his 1970 best-seller Future Shock,1 Alvin Toffler predicted that mass production, which had been driving America’s economic growth since at least the 1920s, would one day be replaced by mass customization. As Toffler asserted, “The society of the future will offer not a restricted, standardized flow of goods, but the greatest variety of un-standardized goods and services any society has ever seen. . . . Two economic factors encourage this trend: First, consumers have more money to lavish on their specialized wants; second, and even more important, as technology becomes more sophisticated, the cost of introducing variations declines.”

Even Toffler could not have foreseen just how sophisticated technology would become over the four decades since he published his book. Today, a few pioneering firms are revolutionizing the U.S. apparel market by using new tools to offer customized clothing, which is sending shock waves through the $181 billion industry.

As Red Herring2 reports, a North Carolina company called [TC]2 has invented a walk-in scanner that can precisely measure a shopper’s body in six seconds. It floods the person’s body with more than 300 light beams, creating 200,000 data points that are recorded by dozens of cameras. The company’s software then combines all of the images to create a digital model of the individual in 3D.

So far, [TC]2 has sold 50 scanners to apparel retailers, including Brooks Brothers and Benchmark Clothiers. At the Brooks Brothers store in Manhattan, a shopper can use the Digital Tailor to get accurate measurements in seconds, and then order made-to-measure suits, sport coats, pants, and dress shirts.

Another [TC]2 client is Lori Coulter, the owner of a St. Louis-based company by that name, which markets made-to-order swimsuits for women who loathe trying on bathing suits. Coulter scanned customers, who can then order perfectly tailored beachwear without having to endure the ordeal of trying on one swimsuit after another in a cramped fitting room.

[TC]2’s technology is a step ahead of its competition. A Montreal firm called My Virtual Model offers software that uses a shopper’s measurements to develop a digital avatar of the person. Using the software, the shopper can see how a retailer’s ready-to-wear clothing would look if she tried it on in a real fitting room. Among the companies that are using My Virtual Model are Lands’ End, Levi’s, Speedo, and H&M.

According to My Virtual Model’s Web site, the technology improves apparel retailers’ profitability by increasing revenues while cutting costs...

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