They say that clothes make the man. But now robots make the clothes that make the man.

Smart clothing is getting smarter. Ralph Lauren debuted self-heating jackets at the Winter Olympics. You may be accessorizing with wearable tech. Shopping can involve a trip to the mall, but it's more likely to entail your mobile device. Major fashion brands know that e-commerce needs to supplement traditional retail strategies. 

Perhaps your spring wardrobe needs a refresh and you want to splurge on a shirt or suit that is a perfect fit for your body type.

Now, something as simple as shopping for the perfect white shirt has been automated. Proper Cloth, a 10-year-old company founded by electrical engineer Seph Skerritt, is making highly personalized custom shirts available to men at a fraction of the cost of traditional custom clothing. 

The company's proprietary Smart Sizes technology enables customers to design, order, and receive a personalized and custom-fit shirt within 10 days. Although Proper Cloth ships more than 5,000 shirts a week, plain white shirts are its bestseller. The company also offers fully custom washed denim shirts and no-iron shirts. The customer answers 11 questions, including preferences such as how he likes to wear his shirt (tucked or un-tucked), and, using a database of thousands of orders, the "machine" will size the garment to fit the individual. Patterns are digitally generated, and fabric is cut by robot manufacturers in Asia, but sewing is still done by humans. The first order is then fine-tuned. About 30 percent of shirts require alterations or remakes, but only 3 percent of the orders shipped are completely rejected. Once fine-tuning takes place, customer data is stored for future orders. Shirts cost an average of $100.

MTailor is also in the custom shirt business and offers a phone app that enables shoppers to scan their own bodies. The company also has a "remake" policy to allow for errors. 

Don't want to scan yourself? Some custom shops are using technology to take your measurements. Acustom Apparel says on its website that the company uses two million data points to create a 3-D body model. But you can expect to pay more for the human experience; a white shirt is about $195.

At Proper Cloth, not only are humans still involved in the sewing process, but Skerritt believes that real-life customer service is key to the custom fashion business. He employs 12 highly trained reps to deal with customer questions and believes, "In order to make a fashion tech company work, you need to do everything well ... website, supply chain, fabrics, manufacturing, product, customer service, marketing, and your brand."

What's next? The sewing robot Sewbo is getting smarter and can craft a T-shirt. Maybe one day it can be trained to remove spilled coffee from those white shirts or sew on a missing button. 

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Published on: Apr 13, 2018