Asia has always been a hot stopover destination for Australians - not only to stretch out on a beach or poolside, but also to pick up a “Savile Row quality” tailored suit, usually made to measure in 24 hours for less than a pair of pants would cost at home.
The rise of a new breed of e-tailoring services such as Institchu and Suit Me Up means Australian men can now get a made-to-measure suit from a Shanghai or Bangkok tailor, all without troubling their passport.
And while the online tailoring business is growing sharply in parallel with online shopping in general, a new development may be the final piece of the puzzle for men debating the cost/quality equation of online suiting.
A 3D scanning booth created by Australian start-up mPort digitally measures its subject (using similar infra-red rays to a television remote control) to obtain a set of full body measurements.
You hop in, strip down to your undies, look straight ahead and the process begins. After a couple of minutes of scanning an avatar stares back at you from the screen in front, complete with a number of your body’s key measurements. It’s quick, easy and its creators say is accurate to within one centimetre.
Quick and hassle-free
Many men enjoy the fastidious process and camaraderie of a tailor’s old-school measuring session, and it’s true that with the mPort there is no such ceremony. But for the men who want shopping to be as quick and hassle-free as possible, a quick stint in a tiny room in your jocks is vastly quicker and easier than using a tailor, and less frustrating than trying off-the-rack suits made for generic body shapes.
And as a practical bonus, the scan can also calculate a number of health-related measurements such as your BMI, body fat content and lean muscle mass.
The likes of Institchu and Suit Me Up offer fully canvassed, pure wool suits that can also be customised for an average cost of $500 to $600, yet many men have remained reluctant to embrace online options.
“It just takes the most painful experience out of the equation for people, which is, ‘are the measurements going to be right?’,” says Ross Townson, co-founder of Suit Me Up.
Taking confidence online
The co-founder of mPort, Dipra Ray, says the use of computational scanning provides confidence, convenience and cost savings for men more used to the old-school ministrations of a tailor.
“All normal measurements used for a suit are fine ... sleeve length, inside and outside leg, shoulders, biceps, chest, waist, we’ve done a lot of tests on that,” Ray says.
The team at Suit Me Up was initially apprehensive about the mPort measuring process.
“Our concern going in was the differences in methodology, because obviously not everybody takes measurements the same way,” Townson says. “But we’ve worked very closely with them and done a bunch on trials to make sure it is well calibrated and now we are very confident with it.”
An end to traditional tailoring?
As the absolute antithesis of the traditional, tactile, tailoring experience, are computer-driven devices such as the mPort a signpost to the end of traditional in-stores clothes purchasing? Ray doesn’t think so.
“We actually think we can do a lot of stuff in-store. Some of the brands we are talking to are in-store because remember, in-store you still have the sizing issue. Imagine if you could get measured here, walk into a store and you don’t have to take in three sizes [of the garment] to the change room to figure out whether it’s going to fit you,” he says.
“We think that the in-store experience should be all about service, about picking the right fabric, about picking the right colour and what suits you. To us, that is the aspiration; that this is just as relevant offline.”
It’s in this context – as an adjunct to the retail experience rather than replacing it entirely – that body scanning technology will likely become an indispensable part of buying clothes. Not only through the accuracy of its measurements, but via partnerships that match measurements to the specific size and shape of a brand’s offerings.
Meeting your match
An example is mPort’s partnership with Academy, a leading brand on the Iconic clothing retail website. An mPort sizing widget will soon appear on the site so that once a customer has been scanned, they can login via an mPort account to find their exact size as they browse online.
Ray believes that having a set of measurements taken will not only encourage consumers to shop online with confidence, but in different places as well.
“There’s not a lot of experimentation going on with online brands, people aren't willing to change brands online because they don’t know if it’ll fit.”
Only three mPorts are operating so far (one each in shopping centres in Melbourne, Sydney and Wollongong), but Ray says positive feedback from customers and partner brands means more should be available soon.
Size Me Up’s Ross Townson also hopes the technology will allay lingering concerns about buying a made-to-measure suit online.
“I really hope people will like and embrace it. There’s so much potential in tying new technology with old craftsmanship and skill.”