Amazon looks toward clothing manufacturing in drive to dominate commerce

Fashion designer Joseph Abboud may have spoken too soon when he boasted to the Boston Globe that he could turn around a custom suit order in 10 days and that Amazon had better “get out of the way.”

Coincidentally, Abboud’s comments were published on the same day as a patent from Amazon that shows the e-commerce behemoth may, in fact, get in the way of his business and those of many other clothiers.

The patent envisions a clothing factory with similarities to an Amazon fulfillment warehouse, in which as many tasks as possible are done by machines.

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According to the patent applied for in December 2015 and granted Oct. 10 for “on-demand apparel panel cutting,” computers would aggregate online clothing orders made to Amazon, and run machinery that would print designs on cloth panels that are used for making clothes. Then the system would cut the panels to the appropriate shape.

Then, in the manner of goods traveling by robot and conveyor belt in an Amazon order-fulfillment warehouse, the panels necessary for an item of clothing would go into a “tote” that’s transported to a station where human labor may or may not be required. The patent refers to the various parts of the computerized system as “engines.”

“For example, if one item, such as a dress, is being assembled for an order, the assembly engine can generate instructions to place all panels for the dress into one tote and direct the tote along the conveyor system to a single sewing station for assembly,” the patent said.

“Alternatively, if several jackets are being assembled, the assembly engine can generate instructions to place several panel-pairs (i.e., panels that are to be sewn together) into a tote and direct the tote along the conveyor system to a single sewing station for assembly.

“At the sewing station, an attendant and/or automated sewing machine can assemble each of the panel-pairs.”

Naturally, the patented system — which is not guaranteed to go into production — sees the process through from order to shipping.

So, Joseph Abboud, you and other clothing makers may want Amazon to get out of the way, but this patent of Amazon’s has a message for you: Watch your back.


Photo: Packages travel down a conveyor belt before being scanned and a shipping address is attached at the Amazon fulfillment center in Tracy, Calif., on Tuesday, April 12, 2016. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)


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