ZOZO, Inc. is Japan’s largest fashion e-retail company and a pioneer in the fashion technology space globally. You may have heard the company’s name recently because of an announcement by SpaceX that its first moon voyage passenger will be the founder and CEO of ZOZO, Inc. Yusaku Maezawa.
The company got its start selling imported records and CDs via mail-order catalog, and later entered the fashion world when they launched the fashion e-commerce platform, ZOZOTOWN, in 2004, beating out much of the competition in Japanese fashion at the time. Currently, they partner with more than 1,100 fashion retailers and more than 7.39 million people buy from the website annually. While e-commerce is still their core business, they have been launching various innovative, tech-powered projects and services to improve customers’ fashion experience.
We were lucky enough to sit down with two key players from ZOZO, Inc., Shintaro Tabata, ZOZO’s Head of Communication Design, and Yuki Kanayama, the Chief Innovation Officer at ZOZO Technologies, Inc., which supports ZOZO’s operations and innovations from the technology side. We talked about the future of fashion tech and their global expansion strategies.
This article will be released in two parts: In part 1, we will discuss the new fashion experience being created by ZOZO and the technology behind that experience. In part 2, we will discuss the role that big data plays in ZOZOTOWN sales. Whether through data collected since the store opened to now acquiring users’ sizing data with the body measurement suit, ZOZOSUIT, data has helped drive ZOZO, Inc.’s strategy for global business expansion.
A New Fashion Experience
ZOZOSUIT: “Your Size” Clothing for Everyone
ZOZO, Inc. developed a proprietary measurement bodysuit called the ZOZOSUIT to solve the biggest headache for both online shoppers and fashion e-retailers: finding the right fit. Thanks to its full body marker recognition system, you can instantly get a 360° view of your unique body sizing data by scanning the dots that cover the entire suit just by using your smartphone camera. Based on the sizing data, you can then order ZOZO’s private label clothing line, which offers perfect-fit clothes ranging from denim jeans to T-shirts and even business suits.
“The pursuit for perfect fitting is embedded in our DNA”, Tabata told us. He explained that developing the ZOZOSUIT was a natural result of their commitment to offering clothes that perfectly fit customers through the online shopping platform, even though they can’t try them on like one normally does at a retail store. The sizing of apparel products varies from brand to brand and, of course, country to country. The company measures the sizes of their merchandise when they are delivered to the company’s warehouse. It’s a tedious and time-consuming task, but one they have been doing since ZOZOTOWN began.
Your Size Search: Finding Perfect-fit Clothes Across Brands
With the fitting data acquired by the ZOZOSUIT, online shopping is made easier than ever before. The company introduced a new search function called “Your Size Search” to ZOZOTOWN in January 2018. ZOZOTOWN includes search filters that enable users to find products that fit them perfectly. This function is not limited to searching their private label, ZOZO, but any brands’ products, meaning that you can find perfect-fit clothes from millions of products regardless of brands’ unique sizing systems.
Some companies do offer services that estimate appropriate sizing based on basic body size information such as height, weight, and the sizes users usually wear, or via devices that scan 3D body data. However, as far as I know, there are no other services that can measure body size as precisely and easily as ZOZOSUIT does.
No More Shopping for Clothing: Personal Styling Service
ZOZO, Inc. launched their personal styling service in February 2018. Similar to StitchFix, this service delivers head-to-toe outfits handpicked by experienced fashion advisors to your doorstep on a regular basis. The company uses unique algorithms to identify outfits that users would like based on initial styling questions, such as what their favorite styles, fits, colors, and fashion items are, as well as what their ideal pricing is for each item. Users can try these selected items on at home and keep the ones they like, returning the rest for free.
Users receive a styling note from their style advisor that comes with products from ZOZOTOWN. Complementary items are shown on the left, and different ways to coordinate them are shown on the right.
Be Fashionable Without Wasting Time on Shopping
ZOZOTOWN has 2 different types of core users for the subscription service: one is the fashion-forward user who shops at ZOZOTOWN, and the other is the relatively affluent user who is not so interested in fashion. Many of the latter work in the tech industry and were introduced to the service through ZOZOSUIT. Tabata explains that being able to dress appropriately for different occasions without taking too much time on shopping for clothes and thinking about outfits is a major benefit to them.
Using Humans to Match Personal Aesthetic Preferences
I noticed the initial styling questions they ask are quite different from the ones that StitchFix asks. ZOZO, Inc. asks fewer questions but the focus is on asking the user’s personal aesthetic preferences. According to Tabata, they rely heavily on style advisors’ senses when they finalize the selection. In other words, by leveraging human style advisors, they can deliver the outfits that meet a user’s aesthetic preference such as “cool” or “pretty” that cannot be quantified by machines, especially with the limited number of questions. He explained that their styling service is like a chef’s choice offered at restaurants in Japan. A chef offers the most suitable dish for each customer without having them select anything from the menu. The chef customizes dishes depending on customer moods and taking into consideration the seasonal availability of the food. Contrary to Tabata, however, Kanayama is more eager to use machine learning to make the service more data-driven.
Technologies Support the New Fashion Experience
The New Company Specialized in Fashion-tech
In April 2018, ZOZO, Inc. founded a brand new company to support ZOZO group’s service from the technology side, ZOZO Technologies, Inc. led by Kanayama. Their mission is to change fashion for everybody in the world through the power of technology. ZOZO intends to invest in technology company-wide.
One of the biggest objectives of founding the new company is to improve their body measuring technology, which is crucial to the aforementioned private label, ZOZO. Instead of adopting existing sizing systems, such as small, medium, and large, they offer “Your Size.”
The brand offers clothes that perfectly fits each user while embodying their brand concept, “Be unique. Be equal.” To make this happen, a precise fitting technology is essential. That’s why the ZOZOSUIT exists and the technologies behind the ZOZOSUIT are supported by ZOZO Technologies.
Each of us is unique. That’s why ZOZO offers “Your Size”, giving you the perfect fit for your unique body type.
ZOZO Technologies has an R&D department that explores fashion’s universal questions such as “What is beautiful?”, “What is cool?” and “What is kawaii (cute in Japanese)?” They are answering these questions by quantifying fashion.
Kanayama explained, “visualizing a concept with numbers makes it easier for humans to understand it. For example, Yelp was one of the first to quantify and visualize restaurants that offered “delicious” food. If you see a restaurant with 4.5 stars on Yelp, you think, “This restaurant must be good.” We are able to understand the value of a restaurant thanks to user reviews that are quantified.”
Kanayama continued that “it’s the same for fashion. For example, even though you like your outfit today, if you see the rating for your style as a 3 out of 100, you feel like you’d better change immediately.”
Explaining concepts quantitatively helps humans make decisions. The goal of the R&D department is to capture and visualize concepts such as whether clothes are fitting or not, fashionable or not, look good on someone, or should be bought or not. All this is done to help users understand fashion.
In addition, the R&D department recently published a thesis on understanding the stylishness of an outfit using machine learning and presented it at a workshop at KDD, the International Conference on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining. We are very excited with how these technologies from ZOZO Technologies will apply to ZOZO, Inc.’s service in the near future.
The Challenge to Fully Automated Production
ZOZO’s private label clothing has great potential to change the fashion industry, not only because it allows everyone to have access to perfect-fitting clothes, but also because its production process is radically streamlined using technology.
In August 2018, Yusaku Maezawa, ZOZO’s CEO, tweeted that they are looking for engineers who want to revolutionize apparel production. We would never see such openings at normal fashion companies. According to ZOZO’s website, they are trying to produce perfect-fitting clothes without using any human resources. By using technologies such as image processing, robotic arms, and machine learning, they are striving to establish a smart factory to fully automate clothing production.
Even now, it only takes 2 weeks to receive ZOZO’s private label “perfect-fit” clothes, while regular production of bespoke clothes can take months. When ZOZO achieves full automation of the production process, same day delivery of perfectly fitting clothes won’t be a dream anymore.
No Other Real Fashion-tech Company in Japan
When I asked if there are any other fashion-tech companies that he keeps his eye on, Kanayama said “honestly, there are not so many companies doing real ‘fashion-tech’. We believe we are the only fashion-tech company in Japan. Even though some companies claim to be fashion-tech, what they are doing is really not ‘tech’ to us.”
Kanayama confidently tells us there are not really any other fashion-tech companies besides ZOZO.
In part 2 of this article, we will discuss the potential of the big data ZOZO, Inc. owns, including the sizing data acquired by the ZOZOSUIT and sales data from ZOZOTOWN. Kanayama and Tabata also open up about their strategies and the challenges they face in global business expansion.