May 23, 2002, 12:00 AM

New custom-fitting technology: From the fabric store to the web

A Canadian manufacturer of custom-fit software for the sew-it-yourself market is planning to bring the technology to the web.

Online retailers have been trying to figure out how to deliver customized clothing effectively, and Land’s End last year went so far as to stake a flag in the sand with its launch of Land’s End Custom, which lets web shoppers order custom-made chinos and jeans. But technology that could one day equip clothing retailers to compete with Land’s End Custom—and go it one better by letting shoppers see the custom clothing on an online model that reflects their individual body measurements—is already on the floor in an unlikely place: fabric stores.

A Canadian technology company, Virtually Yours, debuted its Bodyskanner at a Portland, Ore., fabric store last month. The Bodyskanner is a step-in device that scans body measurements. It stores measurements in an electronic database that interfaces with technology at Virtually Yours’ sister company, Unique Patterns, a maker of custom patterns for the home seamstress. When customers whose measurements have been scanned and stored order a garment pattern from Unique Patterns, they’ll receive a custom pattern designed to fit their specific measurements. The device’s immediate target is the home sewing market, worth some $8.2 billion annually, according to the American Sewing Guild, served by 3,000 fabric stores.

But Virtually Yours has its sites set higher: on retailers and manufacturers. It has another product in development, The Virtual You, which it says can be deployed on the web and on in-store kiosks. The Virtual You creates online, photorealistic images representing an individual’s actual measurements, as supplied by the Bodyskanner or by customers. Customers would be able to see how garments look on their online model and then order the finished custom items.

Body scanning has a checkered past, however. While working with My Virtual Model Inc. on its web site implementation of an online fitting model, Lands’ End experimented with scanning technology from ImageTwin. But the technology proved cumbersome in retail locations, and some consumers complained the scanned model didn’t accurately represent them.

Lands’ End has subsequently taken other steps to make its My Virtual Models appear more lifelike online, but the models are approximations of body types and don’t reflect a customer’s individual measurements. For now, Lands’ End is leaving the precise body measurement to another technology partner, Archetype. Archetype uses customer input and algorithms rather than body scanning to generate patterns for Lands’ End Custom.

Chief marketing officer Giles Crouch says Virtually Yours will seek retail and manufacturer partners to market, manufacture and deliver the custom clothing as measured by the Bodyskanner. But he says that application is still a year or more off.

“We don’t think consumers are ready to adopt the technology. Manufacturers are still trying to understand how they can cost-effectively manufacture custom clothes at a price consumers will pay,” he says. “Retailers want to see tried and true technology. By the time we’ve implemented it in the home sewing industry, we hope to have proven the market segment and the validity of the product.”

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