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Zozo tie-up offers digital bespoke tailoring to reverse fortunes

Partnership with suit maker Onward comes as pandemic clips industry

TOKYO -- With the coronavirus pandemic crushing the business attire industry, Japanese apparel group Onward Holdings and online fashion retailer Zozo will partner in a bid to create new revenue streams based on big data, Nikkei has learned.

Using data covering 1 million different body shapes previously collected by Zozo, the two companies will start selling custom-made jackets and other items in August. The partnership could prompt other industry players to look to digital technology as a means to expand their business.

Onward will develop brand with a high degree of style on Zozo's online shopping site, Zozotown. At the beginning, 28 types of jackets, pants and dresses will be sold for men and women. The companies expect annual sales to be 10 billion yen ($93.5 million) in five years.

Customers can order tailor-made clothing that suits their body simply by selecting their height and weight at Zozotown. Onward will have the clothing manufactured in China and ship items to Japan for delivery between 10 days to 14 days.

Onward suffered a net loss of 2.4 billion yen in the March-May quarter of this year, a deterioration from the 1.6 billion yen in red ink incurred a year ago. The retailer is expected to halve the number of stores to 1,600 over two years. Consequently, strengthening its online sales has become an urgent issue. Facing a limit in how many customers it can attracted on its own, Onward has opted to work with Zozo, which attracts 8 million customers annually.

Japanese apparel group Onward has its clothing manufactured automated made-for-order factory in Dalian, China.

Zozo, for its part, erred when it offered discounts to paid members in 2018. This triggered an exodus of apparel companies from its site, where the product lineup dipped. In response, Zozo is tying up with well-established clothing companies and making use of its own product development capabilities and sewing technologies to develop private brands.

The company's founder, Yusaku Maezawa, stepped down in 2019 to follow other pursuits. The eccentric billionaire, known as an avid collector of sports cars and modern art, is taking part in Elon Musk's SpaceX project, in which he hopes to orbit the moon in 2023.

Zozo's customers are mainly young people, but with Onward it can expand to those who buy business wear.

The business suit industry is in a bad spot now due to coronavirus pandemic, with store closures and more people working from home. Japanese suit maker Renown filed for civil rehabilitation procedures in May. On July 8, America's Brooks Brothers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

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