Will Technology Make Custom Clothing More Affordable?

Simon Davies

From tech startups to e-commerce titans, the quest is on to bring custom-made clothing to a new generation whose income would usually prevent them from being able to afford it. Bespoke clothing tends to be exclusive to high-end stores and is often seen as a rare luxury to all but the wealthiest of people.

The problem is that most of us are walking around with comparatively ill-fitting clothes; however, with the introduction of custom-sizing tech, not only could the fashion industry be transformed, your wardrobe could be too.

The problem with the size of our clothes

Despite the fact they are one of the most commonly worn items of clothing in history, we have come to begrudgingly accept that our t-shirts won’t quite fit most of the time. A so-called medium in one store may be too large and too small in the next. The problem dates back to the 1800s, when advances in technology meant that clothing could start to be mass-produced. Prior to this, as all clothing was hand-tailored, customized sizes were the norm and more affordable for the masses, who would simply own far less clothing.

Even t-shirt manufacturers have come to accept that there’s a problem, with one suggesting three primary reasons why t-shirt sizes vary so significantly. First, there is no restriction on standard clothing sizes, so although agencies such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) may have certain expectations, physically enforcing clothing sizes is technically impossible. Sizing varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, which brings us to our second reason: vanity sizing.

Vanity sizing is the process of stores labeling clothing in a smaller size than it actually is. The theory is, not unsurprisingly, that people will be happier buying clothes that they feel thinner in. If that makes you feel slightly disturbed, the third reason that the size of clothes differ significantly from store to store is because some businesses do the opposite. In trendier stores, sizes labeled large are anything but. In 2006, the CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch came under fire for eliminating its plus-size clothing, saying that “we don’t market to anyone other than…cool, good-looking people.”

Of course, there’s another reason why machine technology has been inferior to the human hand when producing bespoke clothing: the simple fact that bodies come in a wide range of different sizes. There is no one small, medium, or large, and that is a problem machine production hasn’t circumvented…until now.

The rise of bespoke clothing technology

Custom clothing has been described as the future of fashion, and, through the use of automation, that future may be very likely. Amazon’s patent for an “on-demand” apparel manufacturing system can quickly fill online orders for suits and dresses. This would, in theory, be able to make mass-produced, custom-made clothing, and in turn make custom clothing more affordable.

It works like this: The customer enters their exact measurements and other information like style, color, etc. Various computer-driven systems then produce the clothing. First, the aptly named cut engine cuts out pieces of fabric. Then a robotic arm places the fabric into a conveyer belt, which delivers the pieces to a sewing station, where an automated sewing machine (basically a robot) stitches them together. The entire process is monitored via cameras to ensure quality control.

However, it isn’t just Amazon that’s looking at ways to produce machine-made, custom clothing. In a piece in Apparel News, Andrew Asch talked to the inventors and entrepreneurs behind Susarel, a California company that aims to build a fully integrated vertical factory with an automated sewing component that will eventually produce custom clothing.

The plant will be able to produce all sorts of clothing – not just high-end suits – including t-shirts, yoga pants, leggings, board shorts, and hoodies. Susarel’s project will focus on energy-efficiency and being eco-friendly. However, the important thing for many consumers is whether or not it will actually make custom clothing any cheaper.

Will this service eventually become truly affordable?

Susarel seems to think so. Because this tech will allow it to produce clothes domestically in the United States, it believes it will benefit from tariff-free trade. Tom Keefer, one of the entrepreneurs behind the business, reasons that “[although] the cost of the factory build-out will be higher in order to incorporate these technologies, the resulting efficiencies will makes us cost-competitive with offshore manufacturers who handle the lowest-cost labor pool.”

Susarel is planning a soft launch next year, while Amazon’s patent is still just that: a patent. So all this talk of cheap, robot-made, custom clothing remains hypothetical. However, one business is already using a combination of tech and the human hand to bring genuinely cheaper custom clothes.

Copenhagen-based startup Son Of A Tailor offers t-shirts created to fit the wearer perfectly by producing them via a specially developed online algorithm. It works by asking the user five questions (height, weight, age, jeans, and shoe size), then using what it calls its Ideal Size Algorithm to calculate a perfect-sized tee. The pattern is then laser-cut before humans take over, stitching the garment by hand.

Although Son Of A Tailor only offers t-shirts, this combination of machine and human may be the best way to get affordable, custom clothing today.

For more on technological change in manufacturing, learn 6 Surprising Ways 3D Printing Will Disrupt Manufacturing.

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About Simon Davies

Simon Davies is a London-based freelance writer with an interest in startup culture, issues, and solutions. He works explores new markets and disruptive technologies and communicates those recent developments to a wide, public audience. Simon is also a contributor at socialbarrel.com, socialnomics.net, and tech.co. Follow Simon @simontheodavies on Twitter.

How Blockchain Can Restore Trust In The Wine Industry

Eric Annino

Blockchain is one of those things that everyone talks about but no one (myself included) really understands—like bitcoin or the stock market. I do understand, however, that blockchain is all about trust, and that’s the reason it’s going to revolutionize every industry. It’s also the reason it can revolutionize wine markets.

Fine wine has traditionally been bought and sold based on large measures of trust. A seller offers a bottle for sale, most likely something rare, old, or from an iconic maker; provides a reasonably good story of origin (or provenance) to establish that the wine is authentic and has been stored correctly; and buyers line up to shell out thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars.

That has changed in the last decade.

In 2008, Benjamin Wallace’s true crime hit The Billionaire’s Vinegar (soon to be a movie starring Matthew McConaughey) brought to light the story of a German music manager and wine collector who allegedly duped other wealthy collectors into buying counterfeit wine (i.e., wine that has been adulterated in some way, often passed off under a more expensive brand), including several bottles he claimed belonged to Thomas Jefferson.

Wallace’s book became a New York Times bestseller and planted a significant seed of doubt in the minds of collectors everywhere.

Half a decade later, the wine world was again shaken when wine-collector-turned-wine-forger Rudy Kurniawan was sentenced to ten years in prison for defrauding high-end collectors to the tune of at least $20 million. (For the whole story, check out Peter Hellman’s new book In Vino Duplicitas.) In the wake of the “Rudy affair,” auction houses began to withdraw lots of wine of suspicious provenance. Lawsuits followed, and one prominent collector—billionaire Bill Koch, who fell victim to both Rudy and the alleged forger of Wallace’s book, Hardy Rodenstock—even began a crusade against fake wine, hiring a team of experts and spending more than $20 million of his own money to ferret out counterfeiters.

Trust in fine wine markets has never been lower, but blockchain has brought hope.

Meet Everledger, a London-based blockchain technology firm and the first company to secure a wine’s provenance via blockchain. After making its mark fighting counterfeiting in the diamond industry, Everledger made the jump to wine, and has partnered with renowned wine fraud specialist Maureen Downey (who played an important role in the Rudy Kurniawan investigation) to create the Chai Wine Vault.

Using Maureen’s Chai Method, which identifies more than 90 data points on a bottle, along with high-resolution photographs and ownership and storage records, Everledger creates a permanent, digital representation of a bottle on the blockchain. This permanent record acts as a verification point as the bottle changes hands. The blockchain is updated along the way so anyone who buys or sells the bottle can rely on trustworthy provenance.

This level of supply chain security is increasingly vital to every industry. “If you can track and trace diamonds, you can track and trace anything,” says Joe Fox, SAP Ariba’s Senior VP of Business Development and Strategy.

“One of the things blockchain does is facilitate greater visibility and trust. In embedding it across our applications and network, we can enable supply chains that are smarter, faster and more transparent from sourcing all the way through settlement.”

Wine counterfeiting isn’t new—Pliny the Elder lamented the practice in first century Rome—but it’s certainly reaching new heights. Experts, Downey included, have suggested that as much as 20 percent of wine sold globally is fraudulent. An estimated 10,000 “Rudy bottles” are still in circulation, and just last week, police seized 6,000 bottles of counterfeit wine in China.

For wine markets everywhere, blockchain is a timely innovation that underscores the value of trust in any transaction.

For more on blockchain’s potential to impact business processes, see Improve User Experience With Internet Of Things, Blockchain, And Platforms.

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Eric Annino

About Eric Annino

Eric Annino works for Global Corporate Affairs at SAP.

Digitalist Flash Briefing: 3D Printing Gives U.S. Manufacturer A Leg Up On Competitors

Peter Johnson

Today, we’re taking a look at Jabil, one of the world’s largest and most technologically advanced manufacturers. Check out how they are integrating new technologies with advanced manufacturing.

Tune in Monday through Friday for more Digitalist Flash Briefings on disruptive technologies and trends on your favorite device or app.

  • Amazon Echo or Dot: Enable the “Digitalist” flash briefing skill, and ask Alexa to “play my flash briefings” on every business day.
  • Alexa on a mobile device:
    • Download the Amazon Alexa app: Select Skills, and search “Digitalist”. Then, select Digitalist, and click on the Enable button.
    • Download the Amazon app: Click on the microphone icon and say “Play my flash briefing.”

Find and listen to previous Flash Briefings on Digitalistmag.com.

Read more on today’s topic

 

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Peter Johnson

About Peter Johnson

Peter Johnson is a Senior Director of Marketing Strategy and Thought Leadership at SAP, responsible for developing easy to understand corporate level and cross solution messaging. Peter has proven experience leading innovative programs to accelerate and scale Go-To-Market activities, and drive operational efficiencies at industry leading solution providers and global manufactures respectively.

Diving Deep Into Digital Experiences

Kai Goerlich

 

Google Cardboard VR goggles cost US$8
By 2019, immersive solutions
will be adopted in 20% of enterprise businesses
By 2025, the market for immersive hardware and software technology could be $182 billion
In 2017, Lowe’s launched
Holoroom How To VR DIY clinics

From Dipping a Toe to Fully Immersed

The first wave of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) is here,

using smartphones, glasses, and goggles to place us in the middle of 360-degree digital environments or overlay digital artifacts on the physical world. Prototypes, pilot projects, and first movers have already emerged:

  • Guiding warehouse pickers, cargo loaders, and truck drivers with AR
  • Overlaying constantly updated blueprints, measurements, and other construction data on building sites in real time with AR
  • Building 3D machine prototypes in VR for virtual testing and maintenance planning
  • Exhibiting new appliances and fixtures in a VR mockup of the customer’s home
  • Teaching medicine with AR tools that overlay diagnostics and instructions on patients’ bodies

A Vast Sea of Possibilities

Immersive technologies leapt forward in spring 2017 with the introduction of three new products:

  • Nvidia’s Project Holodeck, which generates shared photorealistic VR environments
  • A cloud-based platform for industrial AR from Lenovo New Vision AR and Wikitude
  • A workspace and headset from Meta that lets users use their hands to interact with AR artifacts

The Truly Digital Workplace

New immersive experiences won’t simply be new tools for existing tasks. They promise to create entirely new ways of working.

VR avatars that look and sound like their owners will soon be able to meet in realistic virtual meeting spaces without requiring users to leave their desks or even their homes. With enough computing power and a smart-enough AI, we could soon let VR avatars act as our proxies while we’re doing other things—and (theoretically) do it well enough that no one can tell the difference.

We’ll need a way to signal when an avatar is being human driven in real time, when it’s on autopilot, and when it’s owned by a bot.


What Is Immersion?

A completely immersive experience that’s indistinguishable from real life is impossible given the current constraints on power, throughput, and battery life.

To make current digital experiences more convincing, we’ll need interactive sensors in objects and materials, more powerful infrastructure to create realistic images, and smarter interfaces to interpret and interact with data.

When everything around us is intelligent and interactive, every environment could have an AR overlay or VR presence, with use cases ranging from gaming to firefighting.

We could see a backlash touting the superiority of the unmediated physical world—but multisensory immersive experiences that we can navigate in 360-degree space will change what we consider “real.”


Download the executive brief Diving Deep Into Digital Experiences.


Read the full article Swimming in the Immersive Digital Experience.

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Kai Goerlich

About Kai Goerlich

Kai Goerlich is the Chief Futurist at SAP Innovation Center network His specialties include Competitive Intelligence, Market Intelligence, Corporate Foresight, Trends, Futuring and ideation. Share your thoughts with Kai on Twitter @KaiGoe.heif Futu

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Jenny Dearborn: Soft Skills Will Be Essential for Future Careers

Jenny Dearborn

The Japanese culture has always shown a special reverence for its elderly. That’s why, in 1963, the government began a tradition of giving a silver dish, called a sakazuki, to each citizen who reached the age of 100 by Keiro no Hi (Respect for the Elders Day), which is celebrated on the third Monday of each September.

That first year, there were 153 recipients, according to The Japan Times. By 2016, the number had swelled to more than 65,000, and the dishes cost the already cash-strapped government more than US$2 million, Business Insider reports. Despite the country’s continued devotion to its seniors, the article continues, the government felt obliged to downgrade the finish of the dishes to silver plating to save money.

What tends to get lost in discussions about automation taking over jobs and Millennials taking over the workplace is the impact of increased longevity. In the future, people will need to be in the workforce much longer than they are today. Half of the people born in Japan today, for example, are predicted to live to 107, making their ancestors seem fragile, according to Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, professors at the London Business School and authors of The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity.

The End of the Three-Stage Career

Assuming that advances in healthcare continue, future generations in wealthier societies could be looking at careers lasting 65 or more years, rather than at the roughly 40 years for today’s 70-year-olds, write Gratton and Scott. The three-stage model of employment that dominates the global economy today—education, work, and retirement—will be blown out of the water.

It will be replaced by a new model in which people continually learn new skills and shed old ones. Consider that today’s most in-demand occupations and specialties did not exist 10 years ago, according to The Future of Jobs, a report from the World Economic Forum.

And the pace of change is only going to accelerate. Sixty-five percent of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in jobs that don’t yet exist, the report notes.

Our current educational systems are not equipped to cope with this degree of change. For example, roughly half of the subject knowledge acquired during the first year of a four-year technical degree, such as computer science, is outdated by the time students graduate, the report continues.

Skills That Transcend the Job Market

Instead of treating post-secondary education as a jumping-off point for a specific career path, we may see a switch to a shorter school career that focuses more on skills that transcend a constantly shifting job market. Today, some of these skills, such as complex problem solving and critical thinking, are taught mostly in the context of broader disciplines, such as math or the humanities.

Other competencies that will become critically important in the future are currently treated as if they come naturally or over time with maturity or experience. We receive little, if any, formal training, for example, in creativity and innovation, empathy, emotional intelligence, cross-cultural awareness, persuasion, active listening, and acceptance of change. (No wonder the self-help marketplace continues to thrive!)

The three-stage model of employment that dominates the global economy today—education, work, and retirement—will be blown out of the water.

These skills, which today are heaped together under the dismissive “soft” rubric, are going to harden up to become indispensable. They will become more important, thanks to artificial intelligence and machine learning, which will usher in an era of infinite information, rendering the concept of an expert in most of today’s job disciplines a quaint relic. As our ability to know more than those around us decreases, our need to be able to collaborate well (with both humans and machines) will help define our success in the future.

Individuals and organizations alike will have to learn how to become more flexible and ready to give up set-in-stone ideas about how businesses and careers are supposed to operate. Given the rapid advances in knowledge and attendant skills that the future will bring, we must be willing to say, repeatedly, that whatever we’ve learned to that point doesn’t apply anymore.

Careers will become more like life itself: a series of unpredictable, fluid experiences rather than a tightly scripted narrative. We need to think about the way forward and be more willing to accept change at the individual and organizational levels.

Rethink Employee Training

One way that organizations can help employees manage this shift is by rethinking training. Today, overworked and overwhelmed employees devote just 1% of their workweek to learning, according to a study by consultancy Bersin by Deloitte. Meanwhile, top business leaders such as Bill Gates and Nike founder Phil Knight spend about five hours a week reading, thinking, and experimenting, according to an article in Inc. magazine.

If organizations are to avoid high turnover costs in a world where the need for new skills is shifting constantly, they must give employees more time for learning and make training courses more relevant to the future needs of organizations and individuals, not just to their current needs.

The amount of learning required will vary by role. That’s why at SAP we’re creating learning personas for specific roles in the company and determining how many hours will be required for each. We’re also dividing up training hours into distinct topics:

  • Law: 10%. This is training required by law, such as training to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

  • Company: 20%. Company training includes internal policies and systems.

  • Business: 30%. Employees learn skills required for their current roles in their business units.

  • Future: 40%. This is internal, external, and employee-driven training to close critical skill gaps for jobs of the future.

In the future, we will always need to learn, grow, read, seek out knowledge and truth, and better ourselves with new skills. With the support of employers and educators, we will transform our hardwired fear of change into excitement for change.

We must be able to say to ourselves, “I’m excited to learn something new that I never thought I could do or that never seemed possible before.” D!

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