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IS IT THE RIGHT FIT?

Virtual body doubles are part of Amazon’s plan to keep you out of clothing stores

The Amazon logo is seen outside its JFK8 distribution center in Staten Island, New York
Reuters/Brendan McDermid
Amazon has a new program offering custom t-shirts called "Made for You."
  • Marc Bain
By Marc Bain

Fashion reporter

Published

In its bid to conquer every aspect of shopping, including where we buy our clothes, Amazon today launched a new program called “Made for You” that lets its US customers order a t-shirt made to their measurements.

Users provide their height, weight, and body style, and take two photos of themselves using the Amazon app. With that information, Amazon creates a virtual body double so customers can see how the shirt will fit. They also have some ability to tweak the shirt according to their preference, choosing among different colors, lengths, and necklines and selecting whether they want short sleeves or long, a lighter or heavier fabric, and a v-neck or crew neck. The resulting shirt costs $25 and usually takes about five days to manufacture, Amazon says.

Amazon is likely already the largest clothing retailer in the US. It may struggle to sell design-driven fashion, but it has succeeded in making itself a destination for basic items, like t-shirts. The new program, while small, could help shore up its strength in this category by solving the most vexing issue in online shopping—how to get the right fit without trying items on—especially if Amazon is able to eventually extend it to other items beyond t-shirts. That quest doesn’t come without challenges, however.

Amazon
A virtual body double as seen in Amazon’s “Made for You” program

The idea of offering custom clothes online has captivated a number of companies over the years. Numerous e-retailers of custom shirts, for example, have popped up promising a better-fitting product to men. Less successful, however, have been the attempts to sell inexpensive basics offering a perfect fit via a virtual body image.

Producing individualized items in large volumes isn’t a simple task, and the fit on a customized product isn’t always significantly better than what you can buy off the rack. These issues plagued the large Japanese retailer Zozo, which last year ended its international program to sell clothing such as jeans, button-ups, and t-shirts nearly customized to a user’s measurements at a low price. Its innovation was the Zozosuit, a body suit covered in dots. By having users take photos of themselves in the suit, Zozo could create a detailed three-dimensional image of their bodies. But the program proved a costly failure and it retreated from offering it overseas. (It hasn’t given up on the suit though, introducing what it says is an improved version this year.)

Amazon is starting with just one item—a t-shirt—and if all goes well, it could boost Amazon’s fashion sales and potentially gives it reason to expand to other categories, such as jeans, a particularly problematic garment when it comes to finding the right fit.

Even if the program doesn’t work in the long term, it wouldn’t be Amazon’s first unsuccessful experiment in fashion. In 2017, it canceled the online shopping show it debuted just a year earlier, and this year said it would no longer support the Echo Look, a camera and smart assistant that used machine learning to give users fashion advice. If “Made for You” ultimately follows the same path, Amazon will at least collect data on shoppers that it could potentially use to improve the fit of items in its many private-label lines.

Either way, Amazon’s fashion ambitions aren’t letting up. This year, it also launched a digital shop selling luxury fashion as it keeps trying to move beyond basics and make itself a designer destination too.

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