Rewind 100 years ago and if you worked in an office you wore custom-tailored clothes. Then came a new concept, off the rack – suddenly people could walk into a store and buy clothes, sans tailor. As this trend grew so did massive department stores – Macy’s, JC Penny, Neiman Marcus, they became the epicenter of apparel shopping.
What started as individual stores turned into chains with locations across the US. Gone were the days of traveling to keep up with the latest fashion trends, they were now available just down the street. Small, Medium, Large, and Extra Large – a standard sizing system originally created in the 1800’s to fit soldiers into uniforms became a system for the masses.
The concept of custom clothing and getting clothes tailored moved from a norm to a niche. Small tailoring shops opened up all over the country often employing just an individual tailor, rarely growing beyond 3-5 people. The people had spoken, they wanted the convenience of seeing clothes on the rack, trying it on, and getting the instant gratification of buying something they could wear right-away.
Then, suddenly the world changed again. A company called Amazon.com started to get consumers into a different mindset – why buy in a store when you can buy online? It started with books and soon expanded into everything. Investors started to pour money into online businesses, some made it but many imploded during the Dot-com bubble.
After the bubble burst the pressure was on, building an eCommerce company wasn’t an easy task, only the strong survived. Still slowly but surely things picked back up and soon Macy’s, JC Penny, Neiman Marcus, and all the other retailers that had build their businesses on brick-and-mortar stores began putting an increased focus on eCommerce.
Fast forward to 2005 and the average American consumer had become comfortable with the idea of buying “most” things online but apparel still lagged. The problem was standard sizing. A small in one brand wasn’t the same as a small in another. Size 34 jeans didn’t mean a waist size of 34, in fact it was completely different based on the brand you choose.
Enter (or re-enter) the custom clothier.
Startups saw a new opportunity and over the last ten years that opportunity has moved beyond bootstrapped startups as Venture Capitalists see the same opportunity. Custom Clothing could be sold online, or almost online. Since consumers didn’t have to pick a size when buying custom clothing they could pick things like fabric, collar type, all the little details you could see on a screen, all the way up until the measuring.
That’s where measuring came back in. J Hilburn is the leader of the pack with over 5,000 stylists that travel to your home or business to measure you in-person and help with fabric selection. The company has raised $26M to-date and is most-likely going to exceed $100M in revenue in 2015.
In the booming startup mecca of Silicon Valley another Custom Clothing startup has also peaked investors interest, Trumaker. Similar to J Hilburn they also acquire customers online and then send “outfitters” to their home or business to take the measurements and assist with fabric and product selection. To-date Trumaker has raised $8.4M over the last three years.
Not all startups in the custom clothing space rely on the tape measure, companies like MTailor (a graduate of the popular startup accelerator Y Combinator) uses your smartphone to capture your body measurements. Launched just last year MTailor has raised over $2M and is backed by a very well-known Silicon Valley VC Firm, Khosla Ventures.
Last but certainly not least is probably one of the most well-known custom clothiers, Indochino. Based in Vancouver, Canada this custom suiting startup is estimated to be doing over $30M annually in revenue. Unlike the other custom clothiers above, Indochino sends customers a measuring tape in the mail and then takes them through an 18-step video process to measure themselves. Indochino has raised a total of $17.3M to-date.
These are still the early days but if time has taught us anything it’s that technology changes everything. With VC money making its way into an age-old craft it is now more clear than ever that the re-evolution of custom clothing is upon here.