Building the perfect dude shirt using data

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on October 15, 2013

From The News Desk

I recently watched a Kickstarter video that unintentionally doubled as a parody commercial for #firstworldproblems. An ethereal wind chime soundtrack played in the background, and various men, backlit and looking oh so serious, gazed into the camera. I half expected them to break the news that they each have cancer, but no. One by one they solemnly declare that they can't find a t-shirt that fits them.

Bad Kickstarter videos. So much entertainment to be had, as our very own David Holmes detailed last week.

All teasing aside, this Kickstarter, raising money for a company called Threadmason that does tailored tees for dudes, will probably do pretty well. Seven hours after launching it has already raised almost a quarter of its $20,000 goal.

The founders, Vincent Ko and Jake Huston, are taking what they consider a big data-approach to making t-shirts. They’re also calling it “revolutionary,” but let’s not get too excited. I don’t think the word “revolutionary” can ever apply to t-shirts. (That’s probably famous last words. I bet next week Elon Musk will come out with a t-shirt that enables the wearer to fly or something.)

Ko and Huston surveyed hundreds of men about their t-shirt pain points. Big athletic guys said they wore large shirts to fit their wide shoulders, but the tees made them look chubby in the waist. Shorter guys complained of the fact that small tees were tight in the chest but medium tees were too baggy. This whole world of male vanity I never knew about. It’s a revelation.

Anyways, the Threadmason co-founders gathered reams of anecdotal complaints and then met with fashion designers to create 24 custom sizes. The sizes correlate to small, medium, and large, with variations in sleeve, chest, shoulder, and waist. They adjusted the fittings on men of all shapes, to get each measurement right. And ta-da: 24 sizes later, a tailored tee is available to all dudes.

Ko and Huston worked with myFit, a shopping tech application, to create an interactive 3D model of each of the shirts. Guys can go online, enter in their height, weight, and waist, see the recommended size for them, and look at how it will appear on their bodies. They can go up or down sizes if they prefer a looser or tighter fit, and check out those looks on the 3D model too.

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It’s such a simple idea, but a smart one. (Not revolutionary though. I still won’t go that far.) Cheapish, tailored t-shirts that fit well for the masses. If Threadmason had a similar offering for women, I would go buy one immediately. I can still remember my favorite t-shirt from college. Pale yellow, v-neck, short sleeves. I wore it obsessively, until it grew threadbare and lost its color. I never found a shirt that fit quite that well again.

T-shirts are the underdogs of the fashion industry. All the function, but none of the fame. They’re comfortable, versatile, casual, and when fitted properly, sexy. As the Kickstarter video proclaims, “The t-shirt is so much more than just a t-shirt today.”

Wait what? No, I’m pretty sure it’s still just a garment of clothing you wear on your torso.

Threadmason is right in one proclamation though: finding a t-shirt that fits properly is easier said than done. “Women prefer men in simple clothes that fit them well,” Ko says. He credits his idea for the company to a college moment. A girlfriend bought him an expensive Calvin Klein shirt that didn’t fit him, and she lost the receipt. Ko grabbed a sewing kit and went to town on that bad boy, bringing in the arms and the waist. 5 1/2 years later, “It is the single shirt that I get the most compliments on,” Ko says.

Ko’s background is in tech and fashion. After undergrad at Georgetown he worked for a boutique consulting firm that advised big companies looking to purchase smaller web-based startups. Then, he launched a wooden eyewear company -- Panda Sunglasses -- with a few friends.

“If you see people walking around with wooden sunglasses, there’s a one in three chance it’s Panda,” Ko says.

“One in three? There’s two other companies out there making wooden sunglasses?” I say.

“Yes,” Ko says sheepishly. “You know us Brooklyn hipsters.”

Panda is doing swimmingly, but Ko is playing a less active role as he launches Threadmason.

Depending on the success of the tailored tee, the duo hope to expand their offerings, and branch out into other fitted basics like thermal wear. “T-shirts are -- the best metaphor I can think of is a gateway drug,” Ko says. “We want guys to put clothes on and say, 'Holy shit this is the best fitting shirt I've ever worn.'”

Given Ko’s background in merger and acquisitions, growing the company Warby Parker-style would be a logical next step. But Ko says he’s holding off on raising venture for now.

“Our main thing and our core thing is fit. So if we overextend ourselves, then there will come a point where a guy gets a shirt and says, ‘This actually doesn't fit me that well,’” Ko says. “We have to be very careful that as we scale, we still maintain the ability to provide clothes that fit guys well.”