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Using algorithms to produce the perfect tee

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Copenhagen-based online retailer Son of a Tailor launched in 2014 with the aim of crafting made-to-measure, premium quality men’s T-shirts using a unique online styling algorithm – “idealsize”. Drapers finds out more from its CEO, Jess Fleischer.

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Jess Fleischer and co-founder Andreas Langhorn

What is the story behind Son of a Tailor?

My co-founder Andreas Langhorn and I started the business in 2014 because we felt there weren’t enough T-shirt sizes out there. We are both fairly regular sizes, but too often we’d try a T-shirt on and it wouldn’t really fit. From a manufacturing perspective it seemed crazy that a relatively simple product wasn’t produced in more sizes.

We dug into it, and it seemed like the whole manufacturing part of the business was really antiquated and hadn’t really hit on the customisation trend or dealt with limiting mass production. We decided to go in and make a full made-to-measure ordering service, which is better from an economic, sustainability and customer perspective. [The price for a single T-shirt is £46, which reduces to £34.50 for five or more.]

What were your backgrounds before you founded the company?

Andreas comes from an advertising background and I come from a manufacturing and online business background. I’ve worked as a manufacturing consultant across different industries for some years and I’ve been a part of implementing lean manufacturing. This basically changes the mindset away from mass production and into a customisation model, so customers actually get what they want and don’t have tons of inventory left lying around.

I also worked for eBay for a couple of years, which is where I built my online skillset. I was really passionate about finding a product where I could combine those two skills. T-shirts were perfect.

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How does the process work?

We had been using old measuring methods: people could either measure an old T-shirt or their own body. But we found a lot of customers never got to the ordering stage, as they either didn’t have a measuring tape or they felt it was too complex a process. We started digging into algorithms. We sourced a lot of men’s body measurement data from around the world and our data scientists started to look for correlations. We had a few experiments, our first version asked customers to select what body shape they were from a series of options, along with height and weight.

That didn’t work well, as people see their body shape very subjectively and it was hard for customers to work out which shape they were. So we found that we needed to ask only number questions – height, weight, age and we even found a correlation with shoe size. This “idealsize” algorithm has worked well. Our return rates lower than when we used an actual measuring tape.

Why did you choose to create a plain T-shirt?

We felt there was a need in the market, and the way T-shirts are being worn has changed over the past 30 years, going from underwear to outerwear. That changes the whole requirement of the T-shirt – it does need to be well fitted now. You see a lot of people, particularly in the creative and start-up world, who have T-shirts as their office uniform, so it needs to be better fitted. People are becoming more specific in their demands as well. We have considered going into prints, but we wanted the product to be recognisable as our brand, and classy as well. We also wanted to keep the order process simple.

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Will you expand to other items?

We would like to stay within T-shirts for as long as we can – we think it makes sense. The online fashion world is dominated by the giant players such as Asos and Zalando, but there are the niche players, who are skilled and focused on doing a few things right. We want to be that player. We make T-shirts extremely well and that will always be fundamental to us.

That said, we think there is room to expand. Soon we will go into polo and probably also into long-sleeved T-shirts. Then we’ll look at women’s T-shirts, before we venture into other product categories.

How is sustainability built into the business?

One of the advantages about making a made-to-order product is that you get an immediate sustainability win just by doing that, by eliminating inventories and vastly reducing the return rates on products. Only 5% of our products are returned. That also brings down the carbon footprint.

The second aspect is worker responsibility. We are very transparent about what each seamstress has produced for each customer. It’s almost a one-to-one relationship. We open up our supply chain and show how things work at our end. Customers can see that things are made well and under good circumstances. We also believe that it gives the seamstresses, pattern cutters and makers more ownership over the product. Typically our seamstresses would make all the stitches on one T-shirt, rather than sitting on a production line. We think this is a better way of working and really increases the quality of the product.

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