THE office of startup Match U is located on Shanghai’s Bund, which is lined with some of the world’s most prestigious banks and financial institutions, and sits in an area that has nurtured some of China’s finest bespoke tailors.
The founders of Match U are trying to leverage China’s decades of experience in apparel manufacturing and leading artificial intelligence (AI) technology to create a new approach to tailoring.
“Match U offers tailor-made shirts and menswear, but the term ‘tailor made’ has been redefined,” said Wei Xing, co-founder of the company established in 2016.
At a cost of 199 yuan (RM118) to 399 yuan, consumers can get a made-to-measure cotton shirt after uploading a few key body measurements on their phones. Aside from the conventional options of small, medium and large, the style choices offered include collars, cuffs, waists and front plackets. It takes one to two weeks for manufacturing and delivery after the order is placed over the phone.
“Traditional tailor-made is strongly associated with luxury. Customers are paying as much for the products as for the meticulous, personal services and the exclusive, well-decorated spaces where such services are provided. We have removed all the unnecessary parts and are targeting office workers and fresh graduates,” said Wei.
Together with four co-founders, the Shanghai Jiao Tong University graduate made several entrepreneurial forays before settling on “accessible menswear tailoring”.
“We have spotted a gap between the supply and demand. On one hand, manufacturers and brands are struggling to keep consumers in an increasingly competitive market. On the other hand, the young consumers are always looking to find the next perfect shirt or dress,” said Wei.
Today, the company is in partnership with a dozen apparel factories across the country, which help produce not only shirts, but also jeans and jackets for the company’s 1.5 million members.
Sales this year are expected to reach 800 million yuan, four times that of 2018.
“I don’t think we are in competition with any particular brand. Instead, we are creating a new category,” said Wei.
But she admitted that the pricing of their offerings has put them in the same field as fast fashion brands like Uniqlo and China’s homegrown menswear giant Heilan Home.
“The market for menswear in China has been underestimated for a long time. It’s not like men don’t need to look smart or have the financial capability to spend, but it’s in our traditional mindset that there is not a market for them. If there is any difference, it is that they are less willing to spend time on selecting styles and brands, which means higher brand loyalty,” said Wei.
Consultancy firm Euromonitor International estimated that China’s menswear market was worth over 572 billion yuan in 2018, up 7% year-on-year. While it still accounts for about one-third of the total apparel market, it is projected to enjoy a higher-than-average growth rate and surpass 612 billion yuan by 2023.
Everbright Securities estimated that China’s tailoring market would be worth 200 billion yuan by 2020, almost twice that of 2016, and about 80% of the business would come from the mid-price sector.
In Beijing, a similar team has its eye on the market too.
Online business, Smart Shirt, which was launched in May, was introduced to China by four young Chinese people with similar academic background in aviation to the founders of Australian brand Decent Shirt.
After managing the Chinese factories for the Australian brand, the founders decided to bring the concept of C2M (custom to manufacture) to China, targeting those aged 20 to 30 in bigger cities.
In the first month following its launch on a WeChat mini programme, it sold hundreds of shirts, which was better than expected as the small team spent nothing on advertising, according to Hu Shizhe, a 26-year-old co-founder of the company.
Looking ahead, Hu told China Daily that they want to become the country’s best online tailor-made brand for men.
“Being the best does not necessarily mean being the largest, or the richest, but a model that is considered the prototype in the industry, which latecomers want to follow, and consumers aspire to,” said Hu.
For Match U, the future plan is more concrete: to combine offline and online markets by working with conglomerates like Wanda and Suning.
The company has developed an AI body-measuring cabin, which consumers can walk into, turn around and have their measurements taken with the precision of a Savile Row tailor within minutes. The machines, which cost 100,000 yuan each, will be placed in cinema halls and shopping malls to help attract new customers for the business. — China Daily/Asia News Network
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