Bespoke suits

Zozo brings its measuring suit and tailored clothes to Germany

Maezawa, the chief executive of Zozo, which operates Japan’s popular fashion shopping site Zozotown, officially called Start Today Co, speaks in front of a projection about Zozosuit at an event launching the debut of its formal apparel items, in Tokyo
Zozosuit on the left, Start CEO Maezawa on the right. Source: Reuters

The Zozosuit seems like black, skin-tight long underwear that’s covered in polka dots. But its inventors hope it will revolutionize how internet shoppers buy clothes. The suit is the cornerstone of shopping with Japanese online clothing retailer Zozo, which is branching out to Germany and 72 other countries next month.

Having ordered a suit, the wearer uses their mobile phone to scan themselves and send their exact measurements to Zozo, which then sends tailored leisure wear and suits. “After just a few minutes, we have 12 photos and the exact data to send a customer bespoke jeans or a T-shirt,” says Zozo CEO Masahiro Ito. The 34-year-old executive wears a well-fitting, gray T-shirt and dark blue jeans.

Mr. Ito probably won’t succeed in abolishing the traditional S, M, L, and XL but his company is resonating with the increasing number of customers looking for individualized clothing. Zozo is first launching in Europe’s biggest economy with jeans, T-shirts and casual suits. Business attire will follow in the fall.

Zozo is backed by Start Today, which was founded in 1998 by Yusaku Maezawa. The company now operates Zozotown, Japan’s largest online fashion platform, which had $2.7 billion in sales last year. Mr. Maezawa is now a billionaire and recently made headlines when he bought a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat for around $110 million.

Can’t touch this

The company is also backed by complex technology that starts with the suit, which cost tens of millions to develop. It has 400 printed symbols that each represent a specific point on the body and are scanned by Zozo’s app to produce custom clothing.

But the technology is just one part of the company’s textile equation. “Most factories have told us: ‘We can’t produce that,’” Mr. Ito says. Manufacturers are used to producing hundreds of thousands of pieces in common sizes, but not vice versa: smaller quantities in thousands of sizes, which is exactly Zozo’s concept.

The company has stored thousands of patterns that contain all the essential measurements for a perfect fit. Hundreds of these items are pre-produced and stored in Berlin for the German and European markets. The piece that comes as close as possible to the customer’s body dimensions is then sent to the customer within two days.

If the matching T-shirt is not in stock, it’s manufactured in China and should be with the customer in about two to three weeks. The concept launched in Japan in April and one million Zozosuits have already been ordered. “We have already delivered more than 500,000 items of clothing,” Mr. Ito says.

Maybe, maybe not

The new technology has caught the eye of Germany’s tailors. “This technology is very contemporary. There will certainly be a market for it,” says Inge Szoltysik-Sparrer, head of the Federal Association of Tailors.

However, many tailors already rely on new technologies for body measurements. But the programs are still seldom used, says Ms. Szoltysik-Sparrer: “I believe that the customers who go to the tailor would like an expert to measure with a tape measure.”

Alexander Graf, founder of retail software company Spryker, is also skeptical. “The new Zozo process is only for a small target group of the fashion market,” he says. “Online retailers already have a lot of data to send their customers the clothes in the right size. No new technology is required.”

Mr. Ito doesn’t appear to be taking any chances. He poached Susanne Burger from Berlin online clothier Zalando as Zozo’s German and European head. Pricing, she says, will set Zozo apart – T-shirts start at €22, jeans €59 and leisure shirts or blouses at €49.

Mr. Ito is optimistic: He expects worldwide sales of $180 million this year, or more than 7 million T-shirts. Still, market researchers at Statista forecast total sales of around €11.7 billion for the clothing segment in Germany alone this year.

Georg Weishaupt covers the retail sector for Handelsblatt. To contact the author: weishaupt@handelsblatt.com

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