While Amazon has had trouble attracting fashion-forward and luxury brands to sell garments on their platform, from its own clothing line to its disruptive patents, the company is innovating a new pathway in the fashion industry.
Amazon was granted a patent this past week for “on demand apparel panel cutting”. Essentially, the design features computers that would collect clothing orders made through Amazon. The computers would run machines that print the clothing designs on cloth panels and they would cut these panels into the appropriate shape. The system would also have the ability to sort the cut panels into “totes” that are transported to another station for sewing and assembly. At this station, human labour may or may not be required.
While we always highlight how new, sustainable brands are phasing out fast fashion, Amazon’s recently approved patent automates fashion production in a way that can produce trends like no other business. With no specific focus on sustainability or ethical production, this automated model will allow Amazon to compete with fast fashion giants, such as H&M and Zara.
Something we do like about Amazon’s model so far is that it operates on a made-to-order basis. This means that the computer system will only start clothing production when a customer places an order on Amazon. While this is a more sustainable way to manufacture clothing, instead of mass production, we can imagine an even more sustainable model, which would employ eco-friendly fabrics for the panels used to make clothing.
Even further, our research on social enterprises and sustainable fashion proves that the industry can act as a tool that can empower others and help them succeed. The brand Outland Denim, for example, empowers survivors of human trafficking by giving them a sustainable, long-term career path in the fashion industry. This business model, while providing luxury denim for customers, is able to make a positive impact and help victims secure a future for themselves. While Amazon’s patent is an innovative and exciting addition to the industry, we question whether this is really what we want for the future of the fashion industry. What about the jobs that will be lost?
Handcrafted quality is important to many brands, especially when this intersects with empowering others. In this regard, we are curious about the future that technology will play in garment manufacturing and what role humans will continue to play in the fashion industry.