Amazon has just launched Made for You, which for just $25 allows you to order a completely custom-sized t-shirt via an app where you enter some information about your size, upload two pictures and define your preferences for collar, sleeve, length and fit. It’s currently only available in the United States and only for t-shirts, made in the US with imported fabrics, but knowing Amazon, this service will soon be expanded both in product range and geographically.

Just over three years ago, Amazon acquired Body Labs, a machine-learning company founded in 2013 and based in Manhattan, for an estimated price of between $50 and 70 million. The company specializes in analyzing body shapes, and had raised around $8 million in a previous financing round, and was developing custom avatars and calculating clothing sizes from videos and images. Now, the company’s web page is gone and only shows an old form, ShapeX, where one could register and create an accurate model of one’s body to be used when buying clothing online, but everything indicates that its technology is behind Amazon’s announcement, and that it could be a warning sign for the fashion industry.

Buying clothes through a sizing system is clearly a sub-optimal experience: even if the dimensions of all sizes were consistent across different brands (which are not), it is clear that one size defines a certain body shape, which does not necessarily fit the user. In some cases, adjustments or modifications can be made to the garments, sometimes in the brand’s own store, but the adaptation possibilities do not go much further.

In the fashion world, the dilemma is between bespoke tailoring and off-the-peg clothes, with modular clothing — where you pick from a certain number of sizes and options for each part of the garment — in the middle. Taking measurements is a complex process: a tailor-made suit typically involves two or three measurements, requires certain expertise, and is costly. How do things change when, for $25, you can have a custom-made t-shirt, with the simple requirement of sending a couple of pictures or making a series of simple movements in front of a camera for a few seconds?

Obviously, the difference is in the manufacturing processes: with the manual pattern-making, cutting and sewing that most of the industry operates by, the only way to keep costs down is to manufacture garments with fixed sizes. Moving from this scheme of mass production, typically in countries with low labor costs, to the production of completely customized sizes on demand requires technology beyond the reach of most brands, and also has other effects, such as enabling near-shoring, even in developed countries, by reducing the use of labor applied to purely manual tasks and increasing that of technology and specialized skills.

What does Amazon want? Simply, to develop a system that allows it to offer custom-made clothing at the same price as fast fashion. If it can create such a system, knowing Amazon, it will offer it as a platform to brands, which would make the company the hub around which move the big names would revolve. In no time, buying a garment in size M or XL would make no sense. We would go to a store online or in person, choose an item, but receive a tailor-made version some time later.

Clothing represents a very important share of our consumption, and Amazon has long wanted to enter that category. As a strategic move, the potential is enormous. If the first indication was the acquisition of Body Labs three years ago and the second is these t-shirts, the third, whatever it is, won’t be long in coming.



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