Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
Fast fashion giants like H&M, Zara, Uniqlo, and Asos have pushed the bounds of speed and price in clothing manufacturing, getting faster and cheaper. But according to Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, those aren’t only ways to disrupt the fast fashion model. Maezawa is the founder of Japan’s biggest e-commerce company, Zozotown, and he’s about to upend the way shoppers get the latest trends: by giving them the fast fashion version of custom clothes.
Later this July, Maezawa’s Zozotown will be debuting it’s first in-house line of clothes in 72 countries, including the US. Zozo, as it’s called, will sell oxford button downs, jeans, and several different types of T-shirts. All styles will be sold on its website, will cost under $100, and will be made in less than two weeks. The clincher? The clothes will also be custom-fit for every individual shopper.
“It’s 2018, and there’s so much technology that enables us to truly make custom clothes for people, and bring an entire new experience to market,” Masahiro Ito, who oversees Zozotown’s engineering and research and development efforts, tells Racked.
Zozo’s clothes will be made through state-of-the-art technology. Shoppers will have to download its app and then order a free Zozosuit — a black spandex suit covered in a few hundred white fiducial markers. Once they’re in the suit, shoppers will stand in front of their smartphone, where the app will initiate the camera. The suit’s white markers synchronize with the camera and take measurements. A digital avatar is then created, which shoppers can see and order clothes off of. Additional tweaks can be made, like a shorter hem on jeans, or a wider V-neck on T-shirts.
Maezawa’s idea to launch a custom clothing line came from personal shopping encounters: “I’m short, and have short legs, which made it difficult to find pants that fit nicely. I wanted a pair of pants that someone like me can wear without sewing the hems,” he told the Japan Times.
Size is also a noteworthy factor for brands to consider. Fit is something everyone from American mall brands to Everlane to H&M struggles with, and fellow Japanese retailer Uniqlo has faced plenty of criticism over the years for not understanding American fit. In 2014, CMO Hiroshi Nagai admitted to Racked that sizing was “an issue” for the company.
“The fit is the most difficult thing and it needs to improve,” Nagai said at the time. “We know the bodies are different here than in Japan. It’s something we need to consider more deeply and figure [out what] the specs are.”
Custom fast fashion sounds almost too good to be true. A category of manufacturing that has an immeasurable environmental impact and abhorrent labor allegations, one of the major criticisms of fast fashion is that it’s made clothing disposable. If clothes were to be made for a customer’s personal fit, surely people would think twice before tossing them.
Zozo wants to create a “size-free future,” as Ito calls it, which is also in stark contrast with the fashion industry’s general refusal to make clothes for women above a size 14, even though it’s the size that the average American woman wears.
“We are all shaped too different to keep using the same small, medium, large, or extra large,” says Ito. “We’ve done tireless testing on global audiences, and we found that people want to buy clothes that don’t have any sizing or fitting problems.”
It’s taken Zozo almost seven years and “double-digit millions,” according to Ito, to fully develop the technology of the Zozosuit. If there is any company that has enough muscle to pull such a thing off, its Zozotown’s parent company, Start Today, a $12 billion business that is publicly traded in Japan.
Maezawa launched Start Today in 1998 as a mail-order company for CDs, records, and concert merch. He created Zozotown as a subdivision of the company in 2004, designating it as a digital marketplace for small Japanese brands. It now sells products from 6,300 different companies, and is considered the country’s “fashion empire,” according to the Japanese press.
The company’s deep pockets and business connections make their new project possible. Zozotown will be working with factories it’s connected to in China and New Zealand, and in some cases the turnaround on clothes will be as little as 10 days. Ito believes his company will be starting “a revolutionary new trend,” in which “made to measure en masse at an affordable price is going to become ubiquitous,” he says.
Of course, the Zozo line will face plenty of challenges. Ito admits Zozotown doesn’t have enough name recognition in markets outside of Japan. (It’s fair to say they have zero name recognition in the US.) And while Maezawa himself might have a reputation as a major collector in the art world — he recently made headlines for dropping $110 million on a skull painting from Jean-Michel Basquiat — he doesn’t exactly conjure up much excitement from the shopping world.
But Zozotown doesn’t seem too concerned. It’s putting plenty of effort behind the launch of Zozo, like giving away 100,000 free pairs of denim, and it fully believes it will triumph. According to the company, Maezawa, who was not made available to talk to Racked for this story, told investors that its custom Zozo line could make the business quintuple and hit $46 billion in 10 years from now. Zozotown expects to distribute 10 million Zozosuits by 2019.
“We’re an established company in Japan, and we’ve made huge commitments to factories, so we’re ready to make this go big,” Ito says. “We’re going to try anything we can to get people to try the suits.”
Zozo, of course, also has its native roots as an advantage. The simple tees, blouses, and denim it’s launching with fits in with minimalist aesthetic Japan is famous for, which has helped similar companies like Muji develop a cult following in the US. Zozo plans to expand its product offering, but will still focus on basics.
“We know there are people who can chase trends better than us, and besides, our ethos is that as stylish as you want to be, you really need good basics,” he says. “We’re very clean and we want to be a part of anyone’s wardrobe.