The patent could see future apparel manufacturers reduced to pattern suppliers © US Patent and Trademark Office
The patent could see future apparel manufacturers reduced to pattern suppliers © US Patent and Trademark Office

Amazon plans on-demand fashion manufacturing

20 April 2017

Amazon has won a patent for on-demand apparel production that will eliminate much of the traditional supply chain, bringing manufacturing closer to consumers.

The patent, filed in December 2015 and awarded yesterday, describes a computer software system that will cut and assemble fabrics via textile printers and alter clothes via camera images after a customer has placed an online order, completely removing the need for human assistance.

In addition to printing, cutting and assembling, the almost fully automated system is designed to organise the aggregate product orders based on productivity and arrange patterns in a way that will reduce fabric scrap. 

“Once various textiles products are printed, cut and assembled according to the orders, they can be processed through a quality check, photographed for placement in an electronic commerce system, shipped to customers and/or stored in a materials handling facility for order fulfilment,” the patent details. 

In the 29-page document, Amazon said garments made using the manufacturing system would be produced in batches based on factors such as the customer shipping address.

“Generally, by aggregating orders from several client devices and coordinating apparel manufacture and assembly processes on a relatively large scale, the networked environment provides new ways to increase efficiency in apparel manufacturing,” it said.

On top of apparel, the patent also suggests plans to expand on-demand clothing to a broad range of items including footwear, bags, accessories and fabric home ware in a wide variety of materials including paper, plastic, leather and rubber.

Two of the investors named in the patent are Aaron Barnet and Nancy Liang, co-founders of the 3-D printing start-up Mixee Labs, who joined Amazon in 2015.

The implications for the clothing supply chain are potentially enormous and could see future apparel manufacturers reduced, in part, to pattern suppliers, according to Chain Store Age.

A report by analysts at financial services company Cowen and Co. predict that this move, along with last year's roll out of eight in-house fashion brands, will see Amazon become the biggest clothing retailer in the US.

In September, Amazon ran a $15m TV ad campaign, featuring autumn fashions from and last month it debuted its “Outfit Picker”—a tool which helps Prime members choose what to wear.

Amazon has not commented on the patent but in a recent letter to shareholders, Amazon’s founder, chairman and CEO Jeff Bezos said the company would strive to stay ahead of the desires of consumers and briefly discussed the continued development of artificial intelligence, saying there was “much more to come”, according to Bloomberg.

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