(Bloomberg) -- At a traditional tailor shop, the kind that’s been around for centuries as an atelier for bespoke suiting, the personal touch has always been vital. Shoppers have relationships with their tailors, who know their style and exactly what they’d want to wear. Now that relationship is getting a technological makeover.
Knot Standard, a custom-suit startup backed by more than $25 million in venture capital funding, has spent the past few years trying to figure out what suit its menswear shoppers want when they visit a showroom in person. After numerous attempts, it has settled on something management calls a “Style Wall,” a way to effectively personalize an entire store for individual customers when they step through the front door.
Here’s how it works: Suit-seeking shoppers book their appointments online, pairing up with a stylist. Upon arrival, a wall of screens in the showroom’s common area is there to guide them through basic ideas, with photos and videos of models wearing the label’s suits. If they’ve said, for instance, that they want an outfit for a black tie wedding, tuxedos and bowties will splash across the screens, providing inspiration for looks. Perhaps that’s when someone determines that midnight blue is absolutely out of the question. Black tuxes only? That’s fine, too.
Then customers are taken into a private room with a wall of screens. This one is logged into the shopper’s profile, listing all previous purchases and sharing new looks that may interest them, based on what Knot Standard has learned about their style and what the customer has come to the store to buy. It suggests pairings for items in their current wardrobes and knows their customization preferences ahead of time. Here, the stylist can bring up different options—buttons, pockets, lapels—to show men the looks. They can compare types of collars and explain what goes best with what. Call it a brief education in suiting.
“We sell a very high-end luxury garment that is, in essence, selling confidence in what a guy wears,” says Matt Mueller, the company’s president and co-founder. “Those guys need to know that when they spend the time and money on this, it’s going to work.” What he’s trying to solve is that “confidence gap.” Guys want to be told what looks good on them, especially when they’re spending a hefty chunk of paycheck. Suits at Knot Standard start at $845, and prices can surpass $3,500. That’s higher than a department store range and well above such competitors as Indochino, but lower than many traditional custom or high-fashion designer wares.
Knot Standard tried all sorts of tech since it was founded in 2012 before finally determining that shoppers want this experience more than gimmicky ideas. The basic idea of the brand is that once you get measured (either at home, with a measuring tape and instructions, or in a store, by a stylist) a custom suit is created for you. You try it on, have it tweaked to your final preference, and then your stats are kept on file forever. This is similar to the approach of Indochino or custom shirtmaker Proper Cloth—and more bespoke than a made-to-measure experience such as SuitSupply, at which suits are tailored from existing patterns.
Early on, Knot Standard offered an automated sizing service online that let users measure themselves via a webcam, by simply taking a few photos. It worked, but only about 15% of the store’s customers would actually use it. They weren’t confident in the strange new tech and wanted this done by hand.
Then Knot Standard developed software to let people design garments in 3D, either on a touchscreen in-store or on customer phones. It functioned, but people didn’t take to it. The problems were unexpected. People didn’t like the virtual mannequins created in their image, says Mueller. Wishing to see the clothes on the same kind of bodies they’ve always viewed clothes on, they asked to see photos of suits on models, rather than themselves.
Work on the style wall began about a year ago, when the company got a fresh cash injection from investors. Now the walls are launching in all of Knot Standard’s nine showrooms across the U.S.—in such cities as New York, Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. They’ll also be in the Manhattan flagship of Bloomingdale’s, where Knot Standard operates a shop. The next location will open in Atlanta this spring. Each showroom will have more than 30 screens.
“We’ve tried everything else under the sun to try to get there,” says Mueller. “It’s shown us that there is a way to take what is virtual—be it an app or website—and do it in a physical space.”
Knot Standard is able to alter its entire tailoring store to reflect one person’s desires because visits are by appointment-only; its showrooms are never filled with shoppers. The walls have more than 200 commands to examine every part of an outfit: shirt cuffs, embroidery fonts, fabrics. Hundreds further will be added in the coming weeks.
Despite all the fancy new technology, the old-time tailor shop still has a presence at a place such as Knot Standard. Books of fabric swatches are piled high, with thousands of options for those who want to pore over the full catalog in search of the perfect pattern or color. Some things are irreplaceable.
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