Many entrepreneurs are excited about a new-ish technology called MTM (Made to Measure) that they think will revolutionize retail. The premise is this: A customer is scanned, their measurements uploaded into an MTM CAD program that will spit out a pattern that fits the customer and his or her style preferences. The customer selects the fabric and features they like and after payment, can expect their order to be delivered within a matter of days. To be sure, the MTM system is costly (software + body scanner+ retail space+people to cut and sew onesies and twosies) but the thinking is that customization will be the demand driver, there will be less dead stock and of course, no pattern maker is needed. Sounds awesome, huh? Unfortunately, MTM software isn’t what most people think it is. If it were, me and most of the pattern makers I know would have bought it before now.
The MTM software is better described as a database, not a drafting to measure or pattern making program. In fact, implementing MTM requires a lot of patternmaking in advance. The MTM [database] will definitely spit out pattern pieces specific to given measurements provided those pieces -an enormous data set to include every conceivable size, to be loaded into the system.
Using the image of my blue shirt, top right, here’s an example of the work needed to populate an MTM database:
A pattern is made by a patternmaker to fit a prototypical customer. Let us say that the customer is 5’5″, with a bust of 36″, waist of 28″ and hips of 38″. This pattern is then graded for the other sizes of this prototypical profile. No problem.
Next, the pattern must be modified to fit a variation of the prototypical customer, this one just like the first but an inch taller. And then, an inch shorter. This new version must then be graded to fit the spectrum of that fitting profile.
Next, another pattern for this same style is created to fit a customer with a 35″ bust, or a 37″ bust, and of varying heights, precisely as was done with the first pattern we started with. And so on.
Once this has been completed, or concurrent with it, style variations that can be interchanged with the basic body, are drafted and graded. This could include a variety of collar, sleeve and cuff styles, hem finishes, a back with pleats or not, etc.
All of the fit and style variation pattern pieces that interchange with this basic body style are then stored as separate styles; or rather, individual pattern pieces may be stored as separate components of the configuration build. The beauty of the MTM system -again, a database- is that the algorithm will select the needed pieces to complete a garment that is closest to fitting the scanned customer.
All the above is to explain that MTM is not a made to measure system as most people think of it; it is not bespoke. The MTM program cannot draft a pattern to fit anyone; it merely selects the pieces in the system that most closely match the fit attributes and style preferences of the customer. In short, MTM may not be the elusive holy grail in that it cannot draft patterns and the system must be populated in advance, with patterns made and graded by a pattern maker.
Unfortunately, few MTM resellers will mention what it takes to implement. Case in point, I’m a sophisticated pattern technology person, but even with direct and intensive questioning, it took an hour and a half for a vendor to admit to me, that no, the MTM software does not draft to measure. It can’t.
The last unfortunate thing is that anyone [the aforementioned entrepreneurs who think MTM is a license to print money] I’ve tried to explain this to, all say that I’m wrong. Some even suggest that I’m opposed to it because it could put pattern makers out of business. To which I’ve responded, if MTM really was what it is marketed to be, any pattern maker who could afford it, would have it. I certainly would. How awesome would that be? A real dream come true in my opinion.
In short, if one decides to get an MTM system, one will also need to include the salary cost of a pattern maker to make the patterns. Case in point, someone contacted me for an estimate for patterns to populate their system but calculating the costs soon became so time consuming that I wasn’t willing to create an estimate without being paid for it. I’d never done that before. I did get far enough into it to recommend that they just hire a full time salaried patternmaker.
MTM can be ideal for certain operations, here are some other considerations if you’d like to consider implementing an MTM system:
1. Since MTM is best implemented with a paucity of style options, men’s suits, slacks and shirts are a good choice.
2. Have a retail space that is large enough to house, and the capital to acquire:
- an MTM system,
- a pattern CAD program,
- a body scanner
- and a single or low ply CAM cutting solution
- a sewing operation*.
3. One will also need dedicated, experienced stitchers who are accustomed to sample making and single piece flow, as well as a variety of sewing machines and pressing equipment. It goes without saying that the stitchers need to be adept with complex garment construction.
4. A pattern maker and skilled measurers (as back up).
5. An inventory of fabrics and findings suited to the products.
At this stage, someone may think that the sewing and cutting operations can be outsourced to an outside domestic contractor. These days, I’m thinking not and for two reasons. First is that contractors are in short supply and two, it’ll be pricey. A suit -with no handwork- can take 4-6 hours to cut and 3-4 hours to sew. At a shop rate of $40 an hour (the least expensive one I know), you’re looking at $280-$400 just for cutting and sewing. This is why I think that if you’re going to do this, you may as well go whole hog, spend an extra $75K-$100K and buy a CAM single ply cutter. Otherwise, cutting will be a constriction point you’d never considered.
You can outsource to a contractor offshore if you’re comfortable with managing the logistics and their operation is a perfect match for you. In a perfect world, you wouldn’t need CAM or sewing because you’d send the patterns electronically for plotting or cutting directly to CAM -if they have that.
If you made it down this far, there is still one last problem and that is fitting your customer. Even if you do fit people perfectly, exactly to scan, the customer may not agree it fits well so be prepared for customers to be disappointed because fitting preferences, a bit snug or overly loose, are common.