How far would you go in pursuit of the perfect black t-shirt? Would you let Amazon build a virtual double of your body? They already know so much about you, so what’s a body scan or two between customer and company?
So here’s the deal — Amazon is trying to launch a brand of bespoke clothing called Made for You, and they’re starting with custom solid color t-shirts. Here’s how it works: you give them $25 along with information about your height, weight, and skin tone. Then you upload two pictures of your torso to their app, and these get turned into a 3D model of your body. Once your avatar is built to match, you design your shirt to fit the model. In theory, you get a really good idea of how it will fit.
You can choose from two different fabrics and eight colors, and can customize the neckline, the shirt length, and the sleeve length. If you want to, you can put your name on the tag. Then your perfect t-shirt gets made in the US from imported fabric — either lightweight or medium weight pima cotton. We’re not sure if robots or people are making them, but our money is on people. After all, Amazon is the company that created Mechanical Turk to form a pool of humans available to do on-demand work via the Internet. This is along those lines but with tailors sewing to your specifications. The big questions are what do you get, how does the technology make these better than off-the-rack, and do you give up your privacy in return?
One-Size Fits One
To say that these are custom t-shirts is a bit of a stretch. Oh you don’t need to worry about the t-shirts being skin-tight and showcasing your spare tire — if it’s a relaxed fit you want, that’s one of the options. But the current options are limited.
There are three lengths to choose from which is admirable, but only two necklines. They don’t even offer 3/4 sleeves, just short and long. This is Amazon’s chance to give us real choices, and we say the choices are a lukewarm offering. It’s nothing compared to the custom Converse menu, which even allows two different sizes of shoe in your pair if that’s what you need.
T-shirts are really just the beginning. Amazon wants to expand this service to other clothing items and are open to suggestions, though they envision dresses, pants, and activewear in the near future. Their would-be clothing empire would stand in addition to the shoe and clothing sites that can already be found in the site’s footer like Zappos, and all the Amazon Essentials-branded clothing.
They’re Probably Just Average T-Shirts, But Now I’m Curious
Reviews are mixed — some people are in love with theirs, and others were dismayed by a poor fit and a hem that began to unravel after an hour of wear. This is anecdotal and it’s not unheard of to have bad hems when shopping off-the-rack. Time will tell if there are actually issues with QA in this on-demand clothing model.
The problem is that fitting clothing is not a trivial process — is there some secret sauce here to reliably capture your body shape? Unlike some other companies that take a video of you and create a point cloud of your body, Amazon makes their you-vatar from two pictures and data that you enter.
Personally, I’m conflicted. I want to try it because I know that pima cotton feels really nice, but I don’t think I want Amazon to have such a detailed picture of my mass and topography. I like my shirts big, so maybe I could fudge my weight and throw off my avatar, but build the shirt the way I want it.
Can Amazon Make Quasi-Tailoring Mainstream?
Fashion is cyclical, and apparently so is the way we get our clothes. The isn’t quite tailoring, but the idea of tailored clothing is as old as clothing itself. It’s the expense that keeps it from being popular on a grand scale. Then there’s the whole question of what people will buy if given absolute choice, and how often? If the clothing is too well-made, they might not sell enough of it in the long term. There are a lot of variables to consider on top of the custom tailoring problem.
A handful of companies are out there trying to make a similar model work, but this is Amazon. If anyone can do it, it’s them, right? We can’t help but think that a better model might center around copying people’s favorite t-shirts, but that’s something you can do yourself. If Amazon really wanted to, they could put in a body-scanning kiosk at the mall (the 3D-printing community has been doing this at hackerspaces and events for years now). Your point cloud is uploaded to your Amazon account, and then you shop from home.
Less Wasteful, More Creepy
One clear benefit from a tailoring takeover would be less waste in a notoriously wasteful industry that overproduces garments and contributes to our microplastic and landfill problems. Curbing production, and reducing waste by convincing consumers to keep their better fitting clothes longer sounds great!
But still, one has to wonder, what else could a company do with a bunch of body scans? This is the internet so you have to assume there will be a data breach at some point (although Amazon told Engadget that they delete the photos after spinning up the body double) — what happens when body scans of people are stolen? We are not talking about the kind of invasive images like the airport-grade backscatter radar scanners produce, but it’s still creepy to think about.
So, dear reader, is this a cool innovation, or are they going too far? Would you buy a custom t-shirt if we get both the tech and the privacy right? Let us know in the comments.