An Open Interview with Seamly’s Founder and CEO, Susan Spencer
Frustrated by ill-fitting, generic rack clothing that lined department stores, former NASA systems analyst and founder Susan Spencer dedicated herself to identifying the source of fashion’s poor-fit problem.
What she found was staggering and alarming. The fashion industry suffered from a lack of sustainability, production challenges, poor working conditions, outdated standards, technological challenges, and waste – lots of waste.
Her solution? Seamly – an open-source fashion design program that allows designers and manufacturers across the globe to profitably create customizable fashion designs while reducing waste and giving consumers the ability to finally purchase clothes that fit.
We sat down with Spencer to learn more about the problems plaguing the fashion industry and how Seamly is providing solutions to these problems.
What are the biggest problems you see in the fashion industry right now?
Fashion’s “fast fashion’ business model relies on 40% overproduction which goes to the landfill and experiences high return rates, which eats profits. These are the two biggest problems the fashion industry faces.
Fashion is also facing consumer pressure to become sustainable. Out of every 100 garments made, 40 go to landfills. Of garments sold, 20 are returned and go to landfill. To spell this out, 40 plus 20 means 60% of all garments made go to the landfill without ever being worn.
It seems to present multiple problems on several fronts.
Even if fashion didn’t care about the landfill, their profits are made even lower because a significant proportion of garments sold are discounted. As a result, fashion companies’ profits go into the garbage. It’s in the industry’s own best interest to solve the overproduction and high return profit problems, even if it means doing everything differently.
What are the biggest frustrations coming from clothing consumers?
Consumers demand improvements in three areas: inclusivity, sustainability, and better worker treatment.
For instance, the industry’s attempts at Inclusivity – or better fit for everyone – ultimately fail because the majority of clothing only fits 20% of the population. Pre-sized fit methods do not adjust to the variability of the human body.
Fashion’s efforts towards sustainability and human working conditions have had little to no impact. The “Fast Fashion” business model is based on 40% overproduction. It requires the lowest expenditure on textiles and labor to make any profit. These cheap materials aren’t recyclable. Because of fashion’s 40% overproduction rate, recycling centers would need to be many times larger. We would need thousands more of them if our clothing becomes recyclable.
Most importantly, fashion’s “fast fashion” business model creates a race to the bottom for labor costs. Manufacturers are less incentivized to invest much in facilities or implement humane labor management practices, including neglecting to pay their labor a working wage. These problems can’t be fixed as long as the “fast fashion” business model is used.
How is Seamly addressing these problems?
Seamly addresses the base causes.
We create a better fit the first time for every individual, which reduces returns from 35% to 5%. We cut design costs by half due to our smart efficient workflow. Seamly’s customers’ overproduction is gone — they don’t have to pay to create and ship garments that will never sell.
How does the solution help with sustainability?
Seamly’s approach creates sustainable brands virtually overnight. Designers and manufacturers are no longer losing profits, so they can order from smaller textile mills that produce natural and recyclable fabric.
They can also afford to hire labor contractors that follow humane practices and pay a living wage. Their customers never see an increase in costs, because cost-per-unit sold doesn’t go up.
What is the difference between a Seamly store and a traditional store?
The Seamly store concept is essentially an online store that uses a customer’s account to store their body measurements and create an avatar that they can use anywhere they go.
Can the same concept work in a brick-and-mortar store?
Yes. The concept could also work in a brick-and-mortar store where a clothes designer or stylist helps a customer select designs and shows them the 3D results, helping them to pick multiple styles that work together and look good.
In either setting, the customer can see their clothing selection on their digital avatar – skipping the fitting room. Once they purchase their clothes, the designer can ship them to their home in as little as a week.
If successful, your solution for sustainable fashion could create a paradigm shift in the industry. How will you get consumers to change their buying habits?
Consumers already want to change their buying habits. So, the demand is there. Consumers are waiting for sustainable, better-fit products to become available.
However, the fashion industry has never utilized software that can design custom-fit clothing before now. Existing methods of custom-fit clothing are based on racially-biased body proportions dating back to the Victorian era; the ideal body shapes that their designs are based on don’t actually exist.
This is why current custom-fit clothing usually arrives too tight across the shoulders and other areas but the consumers are too embarrassed to say publicly that their expensive non-returnable clothing is uncomfortable.
Seamly removes racial bias and can fit any physique without being expensive. Our customers have happy clients and have been able to scale and increase profitability, even during the current COVID-19 pandemic where most industries have encountered lower demand and lower profits.
Seamly enables any size fashion enterprise, big or small, to provide mass custom-fit, on-demand clothing that is drop-shipped directly to the consumer.