While the fashion industry has made strides in 2018 towards more size-inclusive and sustainable practices, consumers are still grappling with a frustrating standard sizing system and disposable purchases. Enter the made-to-measure business model, which sees fashion brands tailoring each individual garment to the customer's size, body type and — in some cases — style preference.
The demand for and accessibility of made-to-measure brands has grown over the past few years, but the past 12 months have seen something of a boom. In fact, three new brands in this space — SuitKits, Careste and Red Thread — simultaneously launched in October.
They all vary somewhat in their approach to made-to-measure: Some businesses, such as Zozo and Red Thread, use mobile technology to acquire a 3-D body scan for an accurately-sized garment, while others like Olivia Rose The Label hand-make their pieces, taking individual measurements and aesthetics into account. By disrupting the standard sizing system, utilizing advanced technology and eliminating overstock, made-to-measure brands are positioned not just to survive in the short term, but also to pave the path for the future of fashion. Read on to learn more.
"It's an incredible time right now where there's tremendous personalization in categories like beauty and music, but our clothes are still made with standard sizes," says Ray Li, CEO of Sene, a Los-Angeles-based made-to-measure brand created by a group of fashion, tech and brand experts. In 2017, Li and his partner Mark Zheng launched Sene with the desire to disrupt the fashion industry with quarterly collections of custom-made and modern styles, from an oversize pocket T-shirt for $65 to a short trench coat for $695.
Shoppers can use Sene's Home Fitting Box to try out three styles for five days; using feedback from those, a "Smart Size" quiz that uses your personal clothes for reference and a virtual fitting over videochat, Sene uses its integrated pattern technology to manufacture a correctly-sized garment. Customers also have the option of changing some details to the garment, too, like a straighter silhouette or longer length.
The appeal of the made-to-measure business model is twofold for Sene. In addition to providing inclusive sizing, its production process helps to solve fashion's waste problem. While the brand didn't share an exact number of orders per month, Li says Sene's business is growing at a rate of 25 percent each quarter.
Meghan Litchfield started Red Thread in October of 2018 by crowdsourcing and asking women what they were missing in their closets. "I wanted to create an apparel brand that changes women's relationship with clothing for the better," she says. "Sizing is an arbitrary, inconsistent, emotionally draining system that fails women across the board and it makes so many of us think — wrongfully! — that our bodies are the problem when the problem is the outdated size system."
Red Thread's garments, priced between $78 and $168, are tailored to fit in San Francisco and are the result of "a continuous cycle of designing, prototyping, and testing on real women until we get it right," says Litchfield. When a customer visits the Red Thread site to make an order, they must first take a fit quiz, answering questions on what parts of their body they love to accentuate and what they'd prefer not to draw attention to. A team of fit analysts design, tailor, measure, cut and sew the garment to the customer's desired specification using Red Thread's mobile scanning technology, which creates a 3-D body model that supplies up to 15 key measurements.
Litchfield says the greatest benefit of being a made-to-measure brand is the relief of having clothing that fits on the first try, rather than trying on 20 pairs of pants to find one that "kinda, sorta" fits.
Zozo launched in November 2017 in Japan and, less than a year later, has expanded globally to 72 countries. Founder Yusaku Maezawa wanted to improve the fashion industry's sizing problem, beginning with the Zozo Suit, a custom-fitting garment, as well as a line of affordable, size-free clothing for men and women, including jeans, T-shirts, oxford shirts and recently-added merino wool sweaters, currently all under $60.
While some made-to-measure brands use technology as a supplement to design, it's the center of customization for Zozo. "First, we use the Zozo measurement system, which includes the Zozo Suit, to capture precise measurements of your unique body," explains Alisa Gould-Simon, Zozo's VP of marketing. "Once we have your measurements and you've selected which item you want, we will make a recommendation of a fit that matches your unique shape. From there, you can customize various elements, opting for a looser or tighter fit, changing the length of the item and more." Customers can also use the Zozo app to capture 12 photos — standing at each point on the face of a clock — to create a 3-D rendering that will get turned into a custom-fitting garment.
Gould-Simon says a made-to-measure brand poses fewer risks when it comes to inventory overhead, but subjective fit can become an obstacle for Zozo. "One person's interpretation of a good fit may be different from another, so this can make serving a diverse and global audience challenging," she says. "Customer expectations are greater when they are not simply buying something off the rack." But since Zozo can produce custom product at scale quite quickly, the brand's adaptability to needs of customers doesn't require a premium price point.
Eshakti was ahead of the made-to-measure movement when it launched nearly a decade ago. "We knew that standard sizes and styles-as-shown were not meeting the needs of the majority of customers," says founder and CEO BG Krishnan. The design process differs from those of other brands because it happens in real time, responding to of-the-moment trends rather than anticipating what will be trending in three or six months.
The results are off-the-rack styles that come in a wide array of fabrics and colors in sizes 0 through 36, as well as custom clothing, which requires Eshakti's specialized software to take customer measurements and create personalized garments. (Tops can start around $49 and dresses up to $179.) "Because of our business models, we can bring new product to market within three days of detecting a trend without suffering any inventory losses or encountering any significant obstacles, while giving the customer clothes that are made to her size and style requirements," says Krishnan.
The company's made-to-measure technology is still evolving, too, with the recent launch of Eshakti FX, which allows the customer to see neckline, sleeve and length options of a garment morph right before their eyes online.
Careste launched in October 2018 with the goal of "bringing luxury couture to every woman's wardrobe, as well as reducing the waste used by mass production and environmental problems caused by synthetic fabrics," says co-founder and CEO Celeste Markey. Careste’s prices are within the $300 range for pieces that could cost upwards of $1,000 at a traditional retailer.
Careste's debut pieces included five different top silhouettes made from select fabrics and colors that tie into the brand's current concept and inspiration. Its factory and tech team use a proprietary algorithm that converts key customer measurements into well-fitting tops. Currently, the brand's existing workshops have the capability to produce 135 made-to-measure tops per day. "We're growing rapidly and are excited that we have exceeded all of our initial sales targets," says Markey.
Sierra Elizabeth started her brand Suit Kits in October 2018 because of her own experiences as a lawyer and not being able to find suits that complemented her athletic build and fashion taste. Its women's custom suits range from business casual styles to more fashion-forward offerings, starting at $399.
Suit Kits's made-to-measure service is powered by the 3-D imaging technology on its website, which allows customers to see themselves in the suits in real time. "Our app allows human tailors to record your measurements and link them to your profile, so that every time you order you'll get that perfect fit," explains Elizabeth, adding that made-to-measure suiting has traditionally only been accessible to men.
So far, the brand has launched in New York, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Chicago and Atlanta, with plans to expand to more cities in the coming year. Elizabeth also focuses on giving back with "Suit Kits for Scholars," which donates new business suits to underserved women.
Olivia Rose the Label
Olivia Rose Havelock took the leap to launch Olivia Rose the Label in January 2017. "I wanted to achieve a made-to-order brand that could be tailored to the customer to give them the best possible experience," she says. Pieces like the Esmeralda top, featuring puffed shoulders and a ruched bodice, and the Greta top with a sweetheart neckline and front tie can be seen on the Instagram feeds of some of your favorite fashion editors and micro-influencers.
While Havelock doesn't use any technology to customize orders, she tailors each piece and every detail to the individual customer. The English designer makes every garment herself by hand and says it can take a few months and multiple samples to get a design perfect. She can accept around 25 to 30 orders per week, depending on the length of time it takes to make one item, which on average takes four hours and can ring in between about $70 to $200.
"I love that I can cater to any shape and size and no one is excluded. I find it to be an all-around more personal and ethical journey for a customer — being able to tailor and change their order to suit them best," says Havelock.
In 2016, Allison Lee launched Hemster, an on-demand tailoring service that conveniently gives customers the ability to resize their clothing without leaving their homes. "The current tailoring experience is so frustrating and stressful, we often end up with piles of clothes with tags still on," she says. After meeting with Hemster's Master Fitter, the customer's newly fitted garment, which can cost as little as $15 and increase depending on the number and type of alterations, will arrive within seven days. The home-fit service is currently available in California and New York.
While Hemster doesn't produce any new garments, the service still shares some of the benefits of made-to-measure brands. "Hemster is able to turn any pre-made clothing into customized garments, fitted perfectly to your body," explains Lee. "This allows us to increase sales and lower returns for brands, while understanding each shopper's preferences better." Most brands stick to traditional standard sizing and don't attempt to gather measurement data from their customers, but Hemster stores your fit measurements, so it's even more seamless for all future tailoring orders that the customer may place.