Retail

Maison Me’s AI-Assisted Customization

Customized clothing and automation generally don’t exist comfortably in the same sentence, let alone in the same retail operation. Custom dressing tends to call to mind images of sketched designs and hand-sewn items, not robots or computers.

But, fresh off a $1 million funding round with Google Ventures, fashion start-up Maison Me is hoping to bring new meaning to the term “mix and match,” with its focus on outfitting the world in custom-made clothing enabled by the use of some very advanced artificial intelligence (AI).

Maison Me platform’s secret sauce is that it allows users to give either a sprinkling of information, or a very full and detailed roster of data, about clothing items they might be interested in purchasing. The AI then takes that data and makes the shopper an outfit, customized down to the specs, sizing and desires.

According to Maison Me’s co-founder and CEO, Anastasia Sartan, the newly raised money will go toward optimizing its services as they exist today and building its services out for new platforms, such as Google Home. An odd sounding move, perhaps, given that Maison Me is highly visual, and perhaps not incredibly well-suited to a voice-only interactive device.

Given this investment — not to mention the reams of rumors on the subject — it seems likely that screen-enabled Google Home devices is a matter of when, not if, and that Home users looking for custom clothes will be able to dictate their demands to their Home devices verbally and then see what the AI designer has come up with on a screen.

While the AI is a expert collator for data, Sartan explained in an interview  fashion is not just a commodity — it is also an art, and even the smartest AI in the world is not quite programmed to be an artist or craftsman.

After consumers have answered their style questions, the next phase of the journey involves talking to a seamstress who takes measurements, and then a human stylist sends the customer three sketches to choose from. Buyers are given images of the clothing throughout their construction.

The measuring and sketching costs the consumer $15, and the creation process itself takes about 15 days and, including shipping, costs between $100 – $200. That’s a longer wait than Amazon Prime’s two-day shipping for sure, but not all that much longer than one can expect to wait for standard shipping from regular apparel retailers, and the end-product is a lot more custom when it arrives.

“The designs themselves are made by a tailor, not a machine,” Sartan noted.

The issue the firm was created to solve was waste inventory. Brands that are over-producing to meet uncertain consumer need are creating an environmental problems, as their products are filling landfills. Some companies burn unsold materials in order to keep their brand adequately exclusive. Burberry recently faced a very loud public outcry against its practice of burning what it doesn’t sell and was forced to change its policy.

“Dead stock is the burden of the global fashion industry and the environment, and so are the unmet customers’ expectations regarding the fit, quality and cost. Our goal now is to create clothes you reach for the most, because they fit your body and life perfectly, go with the rest of your wardrobe and are truly worth their price,” Sartan said.

Maison Me’s offerings are designed with a wider eye than just fashion sales. Its smart bot for Facebook Messenger, Epytom Stylist, specializes in telling people what clothes to wear based on the weather. The bot currently has 300,000 users — users that Sartan thinks can move over to Google by building the service Maison Me already offers into the standard smart AI user’s morning routine.

Most people — 78 percent — who talk to a voice AI ask it about the weather. Why? Because they want to know what they should wear that day. Incorporating the Epytom Stylist into that question means it can help customers more than average because it knows their locations and what kinds of things they already like to where.

Maison Me is not the only emerging eTailer to tie in AI with design goals. Stitch Fix and Amazon both have products meant to do similar things. But tying that to clothing and a more useful way to get dressed in the morning? Might be worth watching out for.

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