Imagine walking into an ordinary store and ordering clothing manufactured to your specifications. Apparel-industry experts call the phenomenon "apparel on demand" and see it as the logical extension of "quick response" (QR), a strategy of linking domestic retailers and manufacturers for increased responsiveness. With QR, retailers send their point-of-sale information directly to the manufacturing floor to eliminate downtime. "It's going to be less expensive to produce custom clothing and deliver it to the consumer than to sell it through standard retail channels," asserts Bill Davidow, coauthor of The Virtual Corporation, and the lead investor in a women's jeans QR start-up described below. Industry research bears him out: an apparel consortium concluded that the apparel-on-demand concept could result in savings of 30% in the production chain by reducing the need for inventory and markdowns. In the marketplace, however, the jury is still out. Fashion analyst Alan Millstein thinks QR is great for deep-pocketed conglomerates but "a nightmare for small producers." However, Harvard Business School professor Janice Hammond argues that small companies can also benefit from QR. While the experts debate, new companies are already giving QR a go:
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J-I-T Jeans Sung Park is betting that women will be willing to pay $48 for a pair of jeans guaranteed to fit. He launched Custom Clothing Technology Corp. (CCTC) earlier this year with the goal of delivering customized jeans to women in less than two weeks. A virtual corporation in the purest sense, CCTC is currently based in Park's Boston home and plans to operate in network fashion. Customers will be electronically measured and will select their jeans' style in stores that contract CCTC's just-in-time jeans service. The jeans will then be cut in Vermont, sewed in Texas, and shipped directly to the customer. Park wants CCTC to receive a royalty on each pair of jeans. He is now holding discussions with retailers and manufacturers in the $2-billion women's jeans market.
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Satisfied Partners Thanks to QR techniques, apparel manufacturers Kevin Conroy and Bob Heyer are able to fill large orders for customers like a well-known restaurant chain in less than a week -- all while working out of their 1,000-square-foot office space in Seattle. Their 18-month-old start-up, Satisfied Sport, can remain lean, they say, by contracting manufacturing out to Los Angeles apparel factories and by leveraging automation. Satisfied Sport creates garment patterns with computer-aided design and sends them by modem to production. "They've been very responsive in our tests so far," says Karen Davidson of Harley-Davidson, which is testing the company as a supplier. The start-up, which has been financed with Small Business Administration loans and $10,000 in personal funds, projects it will have $2 million in 1993 revenues.
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High-Techbikinis Michelle Deziel is a QR pioneer. She is the founder of Second Skin Swimwear, a North Palm Beach, Fla., company that manufactures 100,000 customized bathing suits annually. Nine years ago Deziel and her father devised a computerized body-scanning system designed to take the pain and embarrassment out of bathing-suit shopping. The in-store system takes a woman's measurements, and Second Skin makes a suit to fit her. Now Deziel is gearing up to take her concept national. Last year the company invested $100,000 in a factory and a franchise program. The prices for Second Skin's suits start at $72, and it takes from one to three weeks for a suit to reach the customer. The company's reported revenues were around $1 million for fiscal 1992.