Some 240 measurements are taken in 60 seconds, which are then sent to a factory - where a personalised shirt is made
Personalised apparel once used to be all about tailors and tape measures – but start-up Formcut has developed a 3D body scanner to size up customers with more precision.
The UK fashion technology company recently opened a showroom in London, where shoppers can step into a changing booth to be scanned, with 240 measurements taken in 60 seconds.
They can then pick a type of shirt they want to buy – including details such as cuts, collars and cuffs – and the information is sent directly to a factory for the item to be made, with the measurements made available to the customer for making future purchases online.
Co-founder and managing director Chris Richards, 34, developed the technology having grown frustrated with the high street shopping experience and not liking how clothes sat on him.
He speaks to NS Business about his journey to date – and what the future holds for Formcut.
Q&A with Formcut co-founder Chris Richards
What is Formcut?
Formcut is a new apparel personalisation company that uses cutting-edge technology to create unique garment sizes for each person.
We are powering a new business model for fashion retail where every garment fits and little is wasted.
What’s your background and how did it lead to you starting this business?
Before I joined Formcut, I was working in the finance sector. I was a portfolio manager at an investment boutique in Mayfair and had very little experience in fashion or retail.
Coming out of finance, I worked with Tom Adeyoola, the founder of Metail, another fashion tech start-up.
It was Tom that inspired me to go on this journey. It was his belief that the sector was ripe for disruption in many areas that spurred me on.
Formcut was born out of the frustration of one of many failed shopping trips.
I remember trying on clothes in a hot and sweaty changing room in a department store off Regent Street. I was trying on clothes that I liked but they just didn’t fit or look how I wanted.
I thought to myself “there’s got to be a better way” and that’s where I started thinking of how to improve the existing customer shopping experience.
When was Formcut founded and how has its journey unfolded since then?
Formcut began life a year and a half ago and has been in a state of evolution ever since.
We began developing the technology in a cramped loft in Shoreditch, London, testing our MVP customer experience and product primarily on family and friends.
The 3D scanner had a simple curtain around it, and the Formcut logo was printed on a piece of card and hung on the side.
Within months, we were on to our second iteration in a freezing basement in Aldgate, where the experience and product was upgraded, and we started to get real customers to come in and try it.
We then decided to say goodbye to any Christmas plans in 2018 to design and launch a fully operational store in the City of London in a matter of weeks.
It was only in this fully commercial setting that we really started to learn and improve.
We found you only get the truth from consumers and friends when they really pay.
The toil was worth it. We now have the world’s first fully automated scan-to-factory solution and a unique in-store experience to compliment a deeply personalised product.
What kind of funding have you received and what has it enabled you to do?
While financial investment is obviously important, it’s equally important to work with partners who understand what you’re trying to achieve and who have the expertise to help you do that.
TAL Apparel, one of the world’s leading manufacturers with a rich history in creating retail processes and developing supply chain solutions, is our main investor.
As an organisation with more than 60 years’ worth of heritage and experience in this area, we’re able to tap into its expertise. TAL has been crucial in developing the technology and manufacturing the product.
How has your team grown?
At the very start it was just myself. Since then, we have grown to a team of six full-time but there are many more involved in the project.
Actually, a real challenge of this project is that it has required so many different skillsets at different times in its lifecycle.
For example, at the start we needed a great product team to design the 3D scanner user interface, then a garment technician skillset to get the unique sizing system working, and by the end an expansive knowledge of online fashion marketing and much more in-between.
We’ve kept a relatively small core team and then tried to get experts to help out at the right time.
Where do you operate and what are your plans in this regard?
Currently we have a showroom near Mansion House, in the City, but will be moving to a further iteration in the new year.
As has been the case since our inception, our product offering is evolving. While we have focused on a direct-to-customer offering, next year will see us focus on our B2B product.
Our 3D body scan technology is accessible and easy to use for brands looking to innovate and really shake-up their customer offering.
Explain what your business strategy is and how this may change in the future?
In 2020, we are keen to team up with forward-thinking and innovative brands so they can utilise our technology to deliver exceptional personalised garments to their base. We want customers to shop for their entire wardrobe using technology.
Ultimately, we want to offer a service where everything fits and nothing is wasted. The 3D body scanner itself becomes “the last changing room”.
Our strategy will most likely change based on the type of brands we partner with in the future to take the concept forward to a mass audience.
What’s been your biggest success so far?
Getting the technology up and running was no mean feat. To get our proprietary 3D body scan-to-factory solution up and running we had to disrupt the entire supply chain from front to back.
Getting to a place where customers could visit our showroom, get measured in the 3D body scanner and then have a shirt made in their unique size in any fabric they choose – and then reorder online anywhere in the world – is testament to the hard work of the team here.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
Trying to adapt the lean start-up methodology for the fashion industry has been challenging.
The concept relies on getting constant consumer feedback to improve your tech and offering.
In fashion, it is tricky to get people to quickly try something new without breaking your bank, even if the value for the price of your offering is ultimately superior to the alternatives.
Consumers eventually realise but it takes time. A group called Zozo in Japan has been developing a similar concept.
Last year, it tried to solve this problem by offering free clothes to hundreds of thousands to try its offering – even then the uptake was surprisingly low.
Is there anything you would do differently if given the chance?
We created three iterations of three new physical stores while simultaneously developing new technology for it, all in a six-month period.
Iterating that quickly with physical experiences is frenetic. I think we could have given ourselves more time, if only for our own sanity.
The team did an outstanding job to make that work.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
At the start of your career, I think you can take a few risks and make a few mistakes.
Take a chance on a business with a cause that resonates with you because you are going to enjoy doing the work so much more, and chances are that company’s customers will feel the same way as you do and it has a good chance of growing with you.
What is the health of your industry like at the moment and what are the factors impacting it going forward?
I think the speed of the ecological movement is taking some brands by surprise and we could be looking at a watershed moment where some brands will appear out of nowhere and some big names could fail if they don’t move fast enough.
We don’t think the current ready to wear model will stand up in this context.
What is the one disruption you’re preparing your business for in the future?
The issue of sustainability is one that gets talked about a lot and companies, particularly in retail and fashion, are tasked with operating more sustainably.
The volume of garments that end up in landfill worldwide is staggering and when you factor the energy used to produce them, you can see why retail has such a bad reputation.
If each garment is personalised for your taste and body, the discounting cycle ends, there are no trucks ferrying returns back and forth and, because it is a better product, you will use it more.
What does the future hold for Formcut?
Our future lies in technology and innovation. We want to work with brands and create partnerships that will benefit them.
The technology can be picked up by brands and retailers wanting to offer a quick, personalised apparel business.