Online Clothes Shopping

December 29, 2019

I recently tried Stitch Fix out, and while it was a fun experience and I did end up buying something, it struck me that a “perfect” clothes shopping experience doesn’t yet exist - but in the past few years, it has potentially become tractable. Here’s what I think that might look like.

Customizability 🔗︎

A big need with clothing is customization. People like to have unique pieces of clothing as a form of self-expression, and on top of that, there is huge diversity in body types that can result in clothing being more or less suitable.

Frequently, our favorite pieces of clothing are the few mass-produced pieces we’ve found that actually fit our bodies the way we’d like them to. Alterations are a poor substitute for this (does it really make sense to put a piece of clothing together only to have someone take it partially apart and put it together the way you want) and tailoring is expensive and not particularly convenient.

Discovery 🔗︎

A second need with clothing is discovery. Most people don’t have the time (or, if you’re like me, the creativity) to invent the styles or designs they’d like to wear - instead, people like to discover the creations of others that speak to them and allow for self-expression.

Stitch Fix 🔗︎

When I tried Stitch Fix, I quite liked how convenient the discovery aspect became - they’re not limited to what they can stock in a physical store, you receive clothes to try on in the comfort of your home, and you just send back what you don’t want to keep. They try to discover your preferences through some clever surveys, and you can opt for adventurous selections or stay right in your lane.

What I noticed, however, was how often things didn’t fit how I wanted them to - a shirt was too long, pants were too tight, shoulders were too loose, so on and so forth. This is even after providing my desired sizes.

I’m also a relatively “average” person - my partner, who is on the smaller-sized side of things, struggled to find any item that fit at all, despite finding many styles that she quite liked.

Stitch “Next” 🔗︎

Customizability seems to be a major remaining problem. Generally, for clothing, a single scale (S/M/L) is insufficient to capture the range of body types that exist, and if we stick to this model, people will be forever searching for clothing where “Medium” is the right medium for them. A tailor doesn’t measure a single number and then expect to build a perfect suit.

Imagine this experience instead, which seems relatively tractable from a technology perspective:

  1. You take photos of your body from a variety of different angles, and this is used to construct a 3D model of your body.
  2. You can set some other general “fit” preferences, such as loose/tight, or long hem-lines, etc.
  3. You browse styles of clothing, such as the shape or graphics. For certain styles, the color or fabric may also be customizable.
  4. When you find a style you like, your 3D model and preferences are used to generate a piece of clothing with custom fit that you can preview and adjust on the model.
  5. When you order it, it is custom-made and then delivered.

Stitch Fix’s current product, which is a great Discovery experience, can be layered on top of this, by having a Stylist do steps 3-5 for the customer, and packaging 5 picks into a “Fix”.

This helps people find better fits for exactly what they want, and helps make styles of clothing more timeless (and less likely to suffer from discontinuation!) by helping to decouple the supply chain from the style itself. Within the last decade, it’s specifically the increased comfort with purchasing clothing online, which naturally has a latency between order and arrival, that provides a window of opportunity for custom production. Additionally, the imaging technology to easily produce the models for step 1 has become far more accessible and increasingly economical to do at the scales required for this project. All in all, the technology for this experience seems fairly tractable. Of course, the economics are a challenging part of the equation:

  • What does it mean for returns when everything is made to order?
  • Is it possible to custom-produce clothing in a way that yields reasonable price competitiveness? We might expect some costs to actually be lower (fewer returns if things fit better), and more importantly, if the philosophy of material minimalism, whose most recent incarnation is Marie Kondo’s “keep things that spark joy”, takes off, we may find that people are willing to pay a premium for things that are exactly what they want.

Despite these challenges, it seems increasingly possible to have an experience like this, and I look forward to the day when everything in my wardrobe actually fits me.

2019/12/31 Edge Manufacturing product