By Sarah Perez. Source: Techcrunch.
A new startup called CALA aims to make it easier for new designers to break into the fashion business by offering everything needed to run their e-commerce operations – from production to delivery. In addition, CALA’s new mobile app where this apparel is sold is upending the traditional way garment sizes are created and fitted by way of 3D body scanning technology. The result is custom apparel that matches shoppers’ own body measurements with a high degree of accuracy.
CALA was founded last year by Andrew Wyatt, previously the Head of Operations at Shyp, and Shyp’s third engineer, Dylan Pyle. After advising a fashion company, Wyatt realized there was a need for operations technology in the space.
As he describes it, CALA is meant to be a way for designers to outsource all the “non sexy stuff” so they can focus on their sweet spot: their actual designs.
Targeted toward indie designers, as well as online influencers, artists or musicians who want to launch their own labels, CALA handles everything that happens after the sketching process, including hosting the consumer-facing online store on both web and mobile, helping customers find the right size, and getting the garments manufactured and delivered.
Online and in the CALA mobile app, which launched just this week in the Apple App Store, there are now three fashion lines – two from designers – Peter Vu and Anthony Cucculelli – and one of CALA’s own where it can experiment with its new ideas.
The garments themselves are all made in L.A., says Wyatt.
“Basically, we’re taking a page out of Zara’s book, where we’ve built a network of small, 15- to 30-person cut-and-sew shops in L.A. Zara does the same thing in Spain,” Wyatt explains. The advantage of this model is that it speeds up the time it takes for designers to begin selling, he says.
“We’re able to be really responsive. As a designer, you can give us that first sketch and fabric choice, and 40 days later, you can sell your first garment…Typically, in fashion, it would be around 12 to 16 months,” he adds.
The lines sold in the app can also remain small, as designers aren’t forced to add more pieces just to meet manufacturing minimums overseas – as factories in Asia would require. However, that also means that you won’t find an $8 tank top sold through CALA – instead it’s more like $1,500 jackets and $300 blouses.
That said, the type of styles offered through the CALA app can vary, based on which designers CALA is working with at the time. It could feature anything from streetwear to high-end couture.
Though offering an operations platform for e-commerce fashion brands would be enough of a business model to get a new startup off the ground, CALA takes things a step further through its use of 3D body scanning technology.
The company first created a database of 1,000 body 3D body scans at events hosted in L.A. New York and San Francisco, where they invited people to come meet the designers. The scans, which were created using sensor technology from 3D sensor company PrimeSense (yes, the one acquired by Apple), and are accurate down to millimeters.
Now, with the new CALA mobile app, shoppers are prompted to use their smartphone to snap photos of their own body which are then matched to the scans CALA has already stored.
Instead of holding the device at an angle or having a friend snap the shot, customers prop the device up next to a wall, then snap a through photos as directed by an in-app tutorial.
“This body matching gets us 95 percent of the way there,” says Wyatt. “The way we build our sizes is not based on the traditional ‘2, 4, 6, 8…’, it’s based on the population of people we already have on the platform.”
These “smart sizes,” as they’re called, can then be adapted further based on a person’s actual measurements.
For example, a customer could be mapped to what would be like a three-and-a-half, but then based on their arm length, the pattern could be adjusted for a more accurate fit.
Customized apparel like this should be expensive, but Wyatt notes they’re trying to mitigate costs by using digital cut files that are used by lasers for the cutting process, which reduces the cut time that would be otherwise be necessitated by human labor.
CALA generates revenue by charging a small amount upfront to cover development costs, then taking a percentage of the revenues of the items sold through its app.
The company sees the potential for its technology beyond the CALA app, however. Longer-term, it hopes to license out its tech to other vertically integrated e-commerce businesses, where supply chains are shorter than in traditional retail.
“You see StitchFix and a lot of these companies where they’re providing value through really understanding your taste,” Wyatt says.
“But we feel that the most intimate part of clothing has actually been your size – and that’s never really been a part of the equation…We want to help push that forward using machine learning and big data to make not only the styles you want, but the sizes that people actually wear,” he says.
The San Francisco-based startup is a team of three full-time and four part-time, in addition to its contract network in L.A. CALA is closing on a round of seed funding, to be announced in the months ahead.