The conversation around stores playing the part of more than just a place to transact has been getting lots of mileage of late as companies look to local doors to act as mini logistics hubs and, in Ministry of Supply’s case, a small factory of sorts. The company on Thursday rolled out to its Boston flagship a service where customers can order seamless blazers customized to their specifications right down to the garment’s color, cuff style and buttons.
“Your stores have to be much more than stores, or different than what we traditionally think of stores,” said Ministry of Supply chief executive officer and cofounder Aman Advani.
The company—which sells men’s and, more recently, women’s performance workwear—is calling the piece its 3D Print Knit Blazer and the item sits somewhere between a blazer and a cardigan sweater, with a high-gauge knit that keeps it sharp and structured, Advani said.
The company launched a similar version of the blazer about 18 months ago and gauged consumer response, fine tuning the piece based on that feedback.
The item costs $345, with Ministry of Supply planning to eventually make roughly a third of its products—its knitwear—in similar fashion, on demand from its stores.
Advani said the potential to change the way the industry produces clothing can be turned on its head with the technology. The change won’t happen overnight, he acknowledged, pointing out the machine’s 8,000 replaceable parts and a cultural shift in the way the industry handles production.
Finished pieces will be available to pick up in a matter of days and the turnaround could very well be shortened.
“I don’t think we would want to get into one-hour photo. It’s not just an HP LaserJet. There’s a lot of complexity to this thing,” Advani said.
The goal is to eventually roll out the 3D service to the rest of the company’s stores. Having the machine there is a point of differentiation in the market as brands look to figure out their relevance to the consumer at brick-and-mortar. Whether on-site production is a part of the future remains to be seen.
“We all have guesses and we all have hypotheses,” Advani said of where the industry is headed, “but the only way to keep up is to innovate and iterate.”
Ministry of Supply about a year ago had two stores. Today it counts nine with a pair of doors—one in Santa Monica and the other in Walnut Creek—its most recent openings about two weeks ago. A few more could eventually be opened but there is nothing currently in the pipeline, Advani said.
“We don’t want 100 or 500 stores; we want a dozen,” he said. “But we want those stores to be a lot more than the old [store] model…. We think of these as mini offices in each of these cities that allows us to have 12 local presences.”
Ministry of Supply launched in 2012 and to date has raised about $12 million across several investors, including Zappos ceo Tony Hsieh. The majority of its business is direct to consumer with a small percentage—anywhere from 1 to 5 percent—coming from sales through partnerships with companies such as Amazon or Birchbox.
The privately held company doesn’t disclose revenue, but Advani said it’s projecting “some fairly significant revenue growth” this year.
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