Chinese apparel designer iFashion Cloud has developed a cost-effective process for producing custom clothing using digititalization.
Esther looks her best in made-to-measure fashion. Unfortunately, she can only afford off-the-rack prices. Until now, she had to hunt for the best compromise. Since discovering iFashion Cloud, however, Esther can order exactly what she wants based upon her unique measurements, desired trim, and preference in material.
Esther is not alone in her frustration with standard sizes. According to Slate, sizing for women’s clothing is based on an hourglass-shaped figure that only corresponds to about eight percent of the U.S. population. As the cost of custom clothing has increased, more and more women have had to settle with a poor fit.
That was until February 2018, when Lingmei Chen founded Shenzhen iFashion Cloud Technology Co. LTD. The company designs, sells, and produces custom clothing at mass-production prices. iFashion Cloud has solved the price-fit trade-off by replacing manual processes with automation.
Customers like Esther can place their order in any one of the many iFashion Cloud stores located across China. Here, customers can see and touch physical examples of many of the options available. Shop attendants take measurements and help complete the order.
Alternatively, customers can shop from the privacy of their own homes. A custom app designed by the company displays virtual representations of the styles, trims, and materials available. Furthermore, the app uses artificial intelligence (AI) to provide fashion advice. For sizing, customers can take selfies, which the app uses to gauge shoulder, bust, waist, and inseam measurements.
Once an order is placed, a series of automated processes handle everything from ordering materials to scheduling production at the company’s factory in Yudu, China. In the first stage of production, various cloth panels are automatically trimmed to size using cutting beds with computerized numerical control. A hanger system collects the unique components of a given outfit and routes them to sewing stations for stitching together. A week after placing an order, customers receive their custom-fitted clothes.
Much of the automation at the factory is available off the shelf from SAP and other technology providers. What is unique at the Yudu factory is the integration among various applications and hardware components. According to Du Wulue, chief director of Intelligent Manufacturing at iFashion Cloud, “SAP plays the role of designing the architecture to match the business relationships with the Internet technology in the perfect way.”
In addition to automation efficiencies, iFashion Cloud saves on inventory costs. Traditional distribution models with inventory buffers suffer from numerous types of waste. According to Chen, managing director of iFashion Cloud, clothes in high demand are often out of stock, while unwanted items pile up in stores and are sold at steep discounts. Avoiding inefficiencies such as these gives the iFashion Cloud business model a 20 percent cost advantage over traditional supply chains, according to Chen.
In addition to manufacturing and supply chain savings, iFashion Cloud benefits from more efficient research and development (R&D) and managerial practices. Basically, more automation means increased speed and fewer workers. This translates into fewer managers. Chen estimates that the product development cycle is shortened by more than 30 percent and that managerial staff has been reduced by more than 30 percent compared to traditional clothing manufacturers.
iFashion Cloud is initially focusing on the Chinese market because of the country’s growing interest in luxury goods. According to Barrons, China has overtaken the U.S. as the largest luxury market in the world, representing 32 percent of the global luxury spend in 2017. The report goes on to explain that Chinese women view luxury items as a long-term investments in their image, helping them advance in their careers.
For Esther, it’s simply a matter of hunting in a target-rich environment. At iFashion Cloud, she no longer has to worry about the price or the fit. She can focus on what really counts: the look.