May 15, 2019
For every woman we see on the street, strutting her stuff in a skintight pair of jeans, there’s another in a dressing room somewhere, quietly swearing because she cannot find of pair that fits both her waist and her hips.
There were the garden-variety complaints: inconsistent sizing between brands, the way back pockets stretched or sagged, the humiliation of walking into a dressing room with half a dozen options only to walk out empty-handed. Even the best candidates were ill-fitting. Most of the time, she’d buy jeans one size up to fit her hips; then, ask a tailor take them in at the waist.
Litchfield, formerly a vice president at GoPro, figured there must be a way to shop that wasn’t so demoralizing. Instead of taking off-the-rack clothes to the tailor, what if she could buy her clothes tailor-made? And what if she could make that happen for other women, too?
Now, Wired reports, her company creates bespoke clothing for anyone with a smartphone. Customers choose an item from Redthread’s website, fill out a “fit quiz,” and capture a series of full-body photos with their phone. Redthread pulls 3D measurement data from those photos and, combined with a customer’s fit preferences, creates a made-to-order item.
Redthread currently offers an essential ankle pant, essential wide leg pant, a tee, and a snap jacket—fitted to the customer’s personal requirements, hand-sewn in San Francisco, and shipped to the front door in a week for just $4.99. If customers don’t like the results, that $4.99 is quickly refunded; if the patent-pending technology provides the perfect fit, the full price is invoiced ($128 for the ankle pants and $78 for the tee).
The result, Litchfield hopes, will go beyond simply outfitting a more diverse set of body types. It will upend the way clothes are bought, sold, and designed in the future.
Redthread licenses its photographic measurement technology from a company called CALA, which lifts 15 exact measurements from the pictures the customer sends in. The company then uses those measurements to tailor a garment in a dozen or so places before shipping it out.
This kind of customization represents “a huge shift in the industry,” says Sophie Marchessou, a partner at McKinsey who consults on retail brands. A McKinsey report on The State of Fashion in 2019 pointed to personalization as a key trend— especially among younger customers, noting, “They have a desire to individualize products, and they’re often willing to pay a premium for it.”
While custom-made clothing might save retailers money on returns and overstock, Marchessou says it’s not yet sustainable for most brands to ship out custom-produced single orders. Technologies like automated sewing and 3D printing for clothes could make it easier to scale up a bespoke garment business (and also drive down costs), but those technologies aren’t widely accessible yet.
Litchfield, for her part, told Wired that she imagines a world “where stacks of apparel inventory and sizes are eliminated, everyone has their measurements in a digital wallet, and all clothing is created on-demand, personalized to each person.” She thinks we’ll get there, eventually—one pair of made-to-measure pants at a time.
Research contact: @WIRED