Amazon were awarded a patent today (Tuesday 18th April 2017) for ‘On demand apparel manufacturing’. The patent lays out how computers could be used to collate patterns, cut material and then garments assembled and shipped to the customer.
This could be a game changer in the fashion industry – whilst, at least initially, it’s inconceivable that high fashion items with their complicated materials and construction could be manufactured on demand, for simple every day items such as jeans and t-shirts it could soon become a reality.
The same product could be sold in York and New York, cut, sewn and shipped the same day and with Amazon Logistics potentially even delivered the same day.
Set up cost would of course be phenomenal, but Amazon are never shy at spending a few dollars on a promising investment. Their mantra is that it’s ok to fail, but if you do fail then fail quickly and move on to the next innovation. With local production, raw fabrics, buttons and zips could be held locally and shipment costs for the finished garments (many of which are currently shipped from the other side of the world) would be minimal – practically just a list mile delivery cost.
“The computing device is configured to perform a process including aggregating orders for products, organizing the orders according to a productivity factor, and arranging panels for products in the orders into an aggregated textile panel template. Arranging the panels can include aligning the panels among each other to reduce scrap in a textile sheet or orienting the panels with a thread, weave, nap, or knit pattern in the textile sheet, for example.”
The implications for retailers are potentially enormous. In the future, apparel manufactures could in part be reduced to pattern suppliers and it’s worth remembering that Amazon already have their own brands such as ‘Buttoned Down‘, their men’s shirt brand as well as Franklin & Freeman, Franklin Tailored, James & Erin, Lark & Ro, North Eleven, Scout + Ro and Society New York and more.
On demand apparel manufacturing is in reality a logical extension to 3D printing. Yes, you have to have the raw fabrics in stock, but from then on it’s an order generating a pattern which is printed on fabric and then cut and assembled.
If you’re a fashion retailer are you worried about the possibility of an Amazon fashion ‘printer’ opening up, or would you want to be a part of the new business and offer up patterns to be sold and manufactured on demand. Of course there is also the possibility that Amazon will keep this in-house and many retailers could be forced to rethink their business models as local production drives Amazon’s costs down.