Could 3-D tech move apparel manufacturing into stores?

Discussion
Photo: Ministry of Supply
Jun 02, 2017
Matthew Stern

The advent of fast fashion has led to increasing demands on the apparel supply chain to get new clothing designs into stores faster. Now a new boutique apparel retailer is hoping to use “3-D knitting” to circumvent the supply chain entirely.

Boston-based clothing retailer Ministry of Supply has installed a machine next to its checkout counter capable of automatically knitting a customized blazer in around 90 minutes, according to The Washington Post. Customers provide specs such as color and measurements which an associate programs into the machine, and the rest is done automatically. The retailer foresees manufacturing up to one-third of its clothing with the process within a few years. While it currently takes a few days to produce a saleable product due to the need to wash the garment and sew on buttons, the retailer intends to get the turnaround down to the length of an average shopping trip.

Other apparel retailers and brands have begun leveraging mass customization farther down the supply chain. Nordstrom, for instance, backed a consortium of investors who put $15.5 million into an on-demand customized shoe company called Shoes of Prey. The startup purports to have designed 5 million pairs of shoes since 2009 and is considering moving into handbags.

Also in the shoe space, Adidas has begun opening production facilities it calls Speedfactories. The robotic factories can produce at least 50,000 pairs of shoes yearly, and are intended to allow the brand to respond quickly to hyper-local customer demands.

On-demand manufacturing could have a profound impact on the state of the labor market. On one hand it removes the possibility for labor abuses sometimes associated with the global apparel supply chain. But the technology replaces traditional manufacturing in a way that could, someday, do away with a good many apparel manufacturing jobs.

Further, the impact on how consumers shop could be just as drastic — a world in which the distinction between apparel brands is determined not by who manufactures the product, but by a blueprint and guideline for materials a brand furnishes a retailer (or even a home owner of a 3-D knitting machine).

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How close are we to the day when clothing is produced on-demand in the course of a single shopping trip? How might customers react to a supply chain-free apparel store with all production occurring in the facility?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
" They say they can make it in a reasonable time? I get that. They say it’s cost effective? I don’t get that."
"I believe it’s just a matter of time when this on-demand approach will be ubiquitous. Shoppers are happy to wait for custom apparel."
"Consumers want to feel like they are getting extreme value for the money they are spending. Customization is a big part of this."

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11 Comments on "Could 3-D tech move apparel manufacturing into stores?"


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Max Goldberg
Guest

The clothing-on-demand market is in its infancy. But in a time when speed to market is vital for success, its growth will progress quickly. On-demand production could allow consumers to get clothing with a custom fit, in a custom design or with special adornments. It could mean that your size is never out-of-stock. In a world where consumers want what they want and want it now, on-demand could provide what they need.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
Guest

Apparel and accessories express the individual. All the range of options narrowing due to commodities of scale, designed and made to order holds the promise of distinctive products. As creativity increases as an expression of self, making those ideas a reality will follow. I enjoyed being able to select the fit, collar, cuff and monogram during my recent online order of shirts from Paul Fredrick. This wonderful experience, which has made me a convert to that brand, would be enhanced by my being able to further customize. In the process, production does not need to be on-site for immediate delivery in order to provide satisfaction.

Art Suriano
Guest

Interesting concept and one that might prove to be successful. On the upside, I can see many benefits. For the retailer, there will be no need to have inventory because purchased items turn into the finished product. For the customer, they would be able to buy custom fitting clothes provided the 3-D machine could accommodate their measurements. That could be a huge incentive if the cost were right. However the downside, of course, is the labor market because the job loss is apparent. And lastly, would the process be affordable in the long run, meaning how many machines would a retailer need onsite to accommodate a large customer base and would the cost be the same as ready-to-wear clothing? So there are many factors one will have to think through. Lastly and most importantly, how favorable will the consumer be to this concept? Because no matter how many benefits this might offer, if the customer can’t adapt then as with many other great ideas this might not make it.

Phil Masiello
BrainTrust

Consumers want to feel like they are getting extreme value for the money they are spending. Customization is a big part of this. It allows consumers to express their individuality.

I don’t ever foresee this being the entire offering for a brand. So I don’t believe “on-demand” customization will replace the entire supply chain. Some consumers will always want the choice of immediate gratification rather than waiting for a custom order. But on-demand customization will be an essential component to brand and retailer differentiation.

Lee Kent
Guest

I’ve seen it and I’ve heard the spiels but i still don’t get it. They say they can make it in a reasonable time? I get that. They say it’s cost effective? I don’t get that. How can making garments one at a time be more cost effective than running off many across a production line?

That aside, fast-to-market is the rage these days and I do see 3-D picking up. I’m just not sure that consumers will want to go shopping in a place jam-packed with 3-D printers. Just one won’t cut it if all the manufacturing is being done in-store. And if the concept is to order and pick-up, is manufacturing in-store really the answer? Production closer to the consumer yes. In-store? I think there is much planning and testing yet to be done. Ding me if you must but that’s my 2 cents.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

Just how much will a customer pay for customization? It’s not just the cost of the in-store machine and the time. Most customers will need an “advisor” to operate the machine, help pick colors/styling details etc. In the right store at the right price, sure. Mass market? I’m not so sure.

Scott Norris
Guest
One could see this technology as enabling the rebirth of regional retailing, where local merchants collaborate with local tastemakers and producers for city-specific apparel. Not just “I heart [your town here]” or “[your sportsball team here]” t-shirts and caps, but thoughtfully designed pieces that speak to the cultural weave of the place and its climate. Our needs in Minneapolis for managing cold and heat are different from Atlanta and, we’d argue, even distinct from Chicago for instance, so the properties of the cloth we use should be different. Walk through our local craft fairs and you’ll see bold, exciting patterns handcrafted by artisans from new-immigrant communities: they would sell here in higher-end places as well but not in other cities. Our ecosystem of producers like Red Wing Shoes and Faribault Woolen Mills is well-suited for the challenge. Finally, with enough size and preference data for local shoppers, a wise merchant would be able to better estimate demand for specific pieces and buy smarter on short production runs: digital tools don’t have to apply to just… Read more »
Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

With the innovators in this industry moving lead times from seasons (months) to days, I believe it’s just a matter of time when this on-demand approach will be ubiquitous. Shoppers are happy to wait for custom apparel.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

I came here ready to blast the idea as it seems 3D printing is often pushed as a “game changer” by people who really don’t have any idea what it involves (it’s hardly a mass production method). But this is something quite different than I expected … so I won’t. Indeed, it almost sounds too good to be true. But I’ll leave it up to tailors to comment on the “fit and finish” of the product, and whether or not it constitutes bespoke clothing … then we’ll talk about what kind of future it has.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust
Ricardo Belmar
Retail Transformation Thought Leader
3 years 5 months ago

True on-demand, in-store manufacturing of apparel coupled with total customization capability certainly sounds appealing for many customers. I do wonder how well this can scale if we think about a Black Friday scenario with 100 customers coming into a specialty apparel store looking for their custom apparel. How many 3D printing machines will each store need to have to handle the demand of completing every order within the shopping trip?

While it has value I question how large scale this can truly become in-store. Maybe this begs for a new store format in future, nearly empty malls, where customers go to place their custom order (or better yet from their mobile) and just come to pick up the item just after it’s been made. Hmmm — maybe we’ll soon see this as an Amazon Apparel Pickup store….

Kenneth Leung
BrainTrust

Basically technology goes back to to the tailoring tradition when suits are bespoken. I just don’t know if the model works in terms of speed and cost for retailers given current manufacturing technologies. Manufacturing for scale is always going to drive cost per unit down and bespoken will cost more than take longer. Think about stores with in-store tailors and how busy they are versus traditional retail.

Definitely want to push, but we are far from the Star Trek replicator technology in stores.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
" They say they can make it in a reasonable time? I get that. They say it’s cost effective? I don’t get that."
"I believe it’s just a matter of time when this on-demand approach will be ubiquitous. Shoppers are happy to wait for custom apparel."
"Consumers want to feel like they are getting extreme value for the money they are spending. Customization is a big part of this."

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