The Zozosuit: A fashion revolution
It’s not often that something entirely new happens in the fashion industry – something revolutionary. The Japanese Zozosuit is just that – a revolution in one of the biggest bugbears consumers have when buying clothing – the fit. Fit is such a confusing word. Does it mean skin tight? Does it mean just the right measurements in the right places? For the team a Zozosuit it is an altogether more sophisticated notion, condensed into a straightforward suit and a series of photographs that result in individual shoppers globally obtaining custom fit clothing.
The cynic in me wonders immediately how the photos will be taken, how the user will interpret how the suit will be worn and the angle and lighting required for the photos, but this is all dismissed when I see that the Zozosuit App talks the wearer through the process from beginning to end – starting with a tutorial on how to smooth out the suit and ensure it is being worn properly, right through to the slow turn required for the app to acquire the 12 photos that result in the 360 degree ‘body scan’ containing all the measurements needed to create custom made or custom fit clothing (I will explain the difference later in the piece).
When I tried the suit myself it took me a couple of minutes to run through the tutorial, place the phone correctly on a table on the stand provided (it seems our floor is a little uneven) and stand the correct distance from the phone to have my whole body in the field of view for the 12 photos. The app told me to move “to the front a bit, back a bit, turn to 1 o’clock” so it was simple enough to follow, and startlingly accurate. After obtaining my Zozosuit measurements I manually measured my bust, waist, hip and thigh and found that all were within 1cm of the Zozosuit measurements – in the case of the bust, waist and thigh they were identical. I promptly sent my measurements to the team at Start Today, the ecommerce fashion brand behind the suit, and will report back on how the product fits.
The custom made and custom fit proposition by Start Today is startlingly sophisticated for a company making wardrobe basics at the same sort of price-point as Uniqlo. This is the first mass customized product available at a high-street price point and available within weeks, sometimes days. Tech manager Masa Ito confirms that “this is what comes after fast fashion”. He believes their business model will reshape the industry.
To say this is a fashion company is only half the story. “We’re as much a fashion company as we are a tech company” explained Masa. “We have 220 programmers working in-house” on the proprietary pattern-cutting server and software that handles all the incoming 360 degree ‘body scans’ and measurements from customers in 72 countries and interprets them into a bespoke pattern. Bolted onto this are AI algorithms that mean that with every customer transaction this proprietary system gets smarter – it knows what customers want, both broadly and on an individual level. This is the holy grail of individual customer service on a global scale, online – such a beautiful paradox of personalization from afar via digital, rather than physical, means.
Discussing the customer experience from beginning to end with Masa I learn that once the customer completes their scan they can shop from the online store, and for each item they wish to purchase their measurements determine a ‘best fit’ which they can then choose to tweak in increments of 2 or 3 cm up or down, depending on their preference for how baggy or slim, or how long or short their garments are. Cue a wave of Japanese ‘designophiles’ adding a foot to their jean hems and double-cuffing for their own take on how denim should be worn – making this cutomisation of wardrobe staples doubly attractive to a young, directional customer. I can’t wait to put this to the test myself, being small waisted and rather round in the hip region, jeans shopping is a nightmare for me. Well, no longer, hopefully.
Once the products are in the customer’s online shopping bag there are two routes to manufacturing – custom fit (the t-shirt, shirt and jeans products, which are manufactured and in stock based in thousands of variations in measurements, derived from thousands of subjects in their body analysis data). Custom fit products are available within two weeks. The other product option is custom made, which is fully bespoke and is currently offered for their tailored suits. The product offer will expand, though.
Start Today’s head office, design team and programmers are in Japan and the manufacturing is done in China with Industrial partners. Digging a little deeper, I ask Masa about how the products are manufactured. The factory is set up in ‘stations’ to manufacture the different products, which are still made by hand, however there is a huge push towards automation. This is no surprise, as a business model like this does not survive with a slick tech front end and slow manual (and therefore expensive) backend. The manufacturing process needs to be fast and accurate, and ideally local. Once manufacturing is set up along these lines it can be located in the markets it is serving. For cut and sew garments like jeans and t-shirts this seems a little way off, however for inherently automated systems like 3D knit there is already minimal manual input, so manufacturing of knitted sweaters and the like could feasibly be made local much sooner.
Start today are not only creating bespoke clothing, they operate an entirely bespoke design and manufacturing process. Many fashion companies work with existing software and machinery in a standardised manner in factories manufacturing products for multiple brands. Not so for Start Today. They have created proprietary software and systems to drive their technical and manufacturing processes and are working with machine manufacturers to redesign and augment existing machines to function in streamlined and automated ways to support their mass customization. Their factory setup is unique to them – they could not work in a standard factory that manufactures for other brands. This is next generation manufacturing and nothing about this business model is ‘off the shelf’.
It’s difficult to sum up just how transformative this business model and philosophy is. It addresses so many pain points in traditional fashion supply chains and processes and removes sensitivities like body shape, size and race – it does away with all the labels. In that way, it is entirely liberating and inclusive, blowing traditional fashion retailers out of the water. It questions fashion’s use of ‘model sizes’ – whatever they are – and a certain portrayal of what fashion is. According to Start Today we are all fashion. Individually and as a mass market.
Where next for Start Today? They gave away 100,000 Zozosuits in July this year with the launch of their ecommerce store to 72 countries. The measurement data being fed in from the Zozosuit in all the markets around the world is helping Start Today perfect their algorithms and patterns and offer ever better fitting products. Knitwear launches in a few weeks to add to the custom fit offer and I am delighted to be receiving one of their first knits to test. Knowing my knitwear background, I warned I would notice even a single dropped stitch, so I’m a tough customer. What was incredible refreshing was that the Start Today team begged me to feed back to them on all the products and the process of taking my Zozosuit measurements. A fashion company wanting my personal opinion in order to change their processes? Can that really work? When you have complete control over the individual consumer’s clothing offer, fit and service, yes it can. This is the key. Traditional fashion brands and retailers can’t reasonably act on such feedback because of the archaic, complex supply chain and the lack of control over product ‘sizing’. Their best intentions will always fall short in a consumer landscape where we demand products quickly and cheaply that are perfect for us.
Speaking on the founding principles of the company Masa said that the company was determined to address something that was being ignored by their competitors. Plainly speaking, he said they could not compete on design – there are incredible brands out their winning in this area. They could not compete on retail stores – there are wonderful shopping experiences already existing. But what no brand has ever addressed is how horrible it is to spend your life buying clothing off the shelf that is ill-fitting or having to get it altered – making the customer feel self-conscious and short-changed. Considering the desperate lack of provision for people who fit into what is often termed ‘petite, or ‘plus-size’ or ‘big and tall’ it is incredibly refreshing to realise that the Zozosuit means these categories and labels need never exist again. Zozo fits you perfectly, whatever dimensions you are.