Japan’s LaFabric, e-tailor for made-to-measure shirts and custom suits, gets $3.5M

Lifestyle Design CEO Yuichiro Mori

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Lifestyle Design, running the LaFabric online store focused on made-to-measure shirts and custom business suits, based on pre-obtained user measurements stored on the cloud, announced last week that it has completed a 400 million yen (about $3.5 million) funding as the sum of investment and bank borrowings from its current investors: Nissay Capital, IMJ Investment Partners Japan, Chibagin Capital, Future Venture Capital (TSE:8462) and individual investors.

The individual investors include Kotaro Chiba, who is founder of Colopl and currently an angel investor, and Shingo Iwata, who is CEO of Gifu-based manufacturer Mitsu-boshi Textile Group. The money secured this time will be used for enhancement of the firm’s organization, expansion of the customized-apparel business and development of a production platform.

A newcomer utilizing online takes the next step.

To fathom what LaFabric is aiming for, it may be helpful to understand the keyword D2C (Direct to Consumer). It is a kind of direct sales style, but seeks a business model different from just optimization with disintermediation by owning highly-detailed personal data including physical information and preferences. Other than LaFabric, Japan’s apparel brand Factelier or online glasses marketplace Oh My Glasses are known as domestic players in this field.

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As social media has developed, the stage finally seems set for emerging players like them. Lifestyle Design aims to keep abreast with this trend. According to CEO Yuichiro Mori, the number of repeat customers are steadily increasing as three years have passed since the service launch.

He said:

90% of users who had purchased tailored clothing at stores purchased our products repeatedly online. Shirts had been much popular before, but recently the sales weight is shifting to suits and the sales amounts of the two have become reversed. The average price of suits are about 40,000 yen (about $350).

When the service was started, “the first measurement problem” was concerned; I also doubted if the service will become common due to the extraordinarily high hurdle for the first measurement. However, this problem was slightly solved through sales promotion at real retailers or pop-up stores. There was no easy way but steady business activities have eventually worked effectively.

In addition, sales promotion as a strong brand is required for D2C business as a matter of course. Although once the firm had regarded customer trends as one category of a periodically purchasing, the quality of the products is rarely ignored just because it is easy to order having pre-measured data in such an expensive apparel business. Mori has a strong preference as to this point.

He continued:

We do not only stock products directly from sewing factories, but also undertake joint development of clothing materials. For example, see washable suits of THE TECH series. We aimed at what you put into washing machines and can wear on the next day. THE SOCIAL series dyed with natural blueberry are popular among IT people due to its denim-like feel.

Besides this, THE ROOTS series, using a fabric manufactured at factories in Gifu Prefecture, are produced by a streamline method from filature to dyeing, making the clothing have a story as an addition value. Mori says that “experience” like the story will be an important point required for D2C in the future, in addition to production areas, factories and the accumulation of all sorts of user data. By the way, Lifestyle Design have been partnered with more than 100 filature / garment factories.

Mori said that the firm will develop a platform based on the ecosystem which it has gradually constructed.

He added:

After the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, more and more people discovered or re-acknowledged the merit of the Japanese manufacturing. I also found a lot of great products all over Japan while going the rounds of factories or production areas. However, the manufactures have been losing the power to spread their products. Indeed the first measurement of our service may be troublesome, but once you registered, we can improve the convenience or the excellence in experiences from the next time. Three or five years later, I expect that most people become to transfer their physical data to online.

Once a factory receives the clothing data ordered by a user with smartphones, a product tailored in the unique partner factory will be delivered. Mori notes that craftsmanship is still necessary upon cutting or detailed works. This topic showed us that the backside of an emerging brand is established by a combination of human and technologies.

Translated by Taijiro Takeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy