That’s my first thought as I wriggle into the black, skin-tight catsuit. I look ready to perform motion-capture for Lord of the Rings. I pull the leggings up over my waist, then I take a quick selfie to really check myself out.
The garment, known as a Zozosuit, clings to my skin without remorse. It shows everything. The chocolate gut. The pancake biceps. The junk in the trunk and the tucked family jewels.
This is a devastating self-burn. Why would I do this to myself?
The Zozosuit is the brainchild of Yusaku Maezawa, a punk drummer turned Japanese billionaire entrepreneur and founder of Japan’s biggest online fashion retailer, Zozotown. He also happens to be a big fan of Jean-Michel Basquiat and, thanks to Elon Musk, he’s set to be the first private citizen to go to the moon.
Having been struck by an inability to find clothes that fit him perfectly (he cites his short stature for that issue), Maezawa reasoned that others were surely having similar problems. Clothing isn’t designed for all body types, but partitioned into sizes that change depending on which part of the world you live in. Of course, there are no fitting rooms when you buy clothes online, either, so you can’t try before you buy.
Maezawa saw a gap in the market: easy-to-order, custom-fit clothing. The first seeds for the Zozosuit were planted.
Zozosuit promises a world where jeans aren’t too long or too short or too baggy or too wide, and tees rest perfectly on shoulders bony, flat, crooked or slim.
But before all that, Zozosuit promises a different world. A world where my morale is destroyed.
Once I’ve slipped into the suit, I become immediately self-conscious. I look like a vacuum-sealed basketball. The first photo I take is so bad I laugh out loud and then consider throwing my phone into a volcano. Instead I readjust, pose in a more flattering stance and take another photo.
I send my image off into the internet-ether forever and then I remember I have a half-eaten maple butter doughnut sitting on my desk. As parts of my body I didn’t even know existed bulge against the soft, stretchy fabric, I feel guilty. Should I really be eating that?
I wonder if anyone else in the office wants the doughnut.
A size-free world
The Zozosuit is trying to shake up the online fashion industry and I’m giving it a test run. White polka-dots are spattered across the suit punctured by little holes. When combined with Zozo’s dedicated phone app it can create a 3D model of your body. The suit is essentially an at-home measurement device — not a fashion statement — and once it has your measurements you can purchase clothing directly from the Zozo app, crafted to fit only one person: you.
The product that exists today, containing the uniquely patterned white dots, was created in-house by Zozo’s research and development team.
The 300 to 400 markers on the suit provided a new means to take measurements that allow Zozo to forego more expensive Bluetooth sensors, which are harder to produce and throw up a host of issues tied to connections and sensors. The white-polka-dot technology is so rudimentary that the Zozosuit can even be washed without doing any damage.
Zozosuit shipped over a million units to Japanese customers within the first six months of launch — but Maezawa wanted to go bigger. His vision was for a size-free world, not a size-free country. So on July 4, Zozo announced it would launch in 72 countries including the US, the UK, Australia, Singapore, China, Brazil and India.
How it all fits together
The Zozosuit arrives in a simple, flat A4-sized parcel. Inside is a two-piece bodysuit and a foldable cardboard stand designed for your phone to sit on. Once you’ve downloaded the Zozo app you drop your phone on the stand and take a few steps back.
The process of taking the 18 body measurements is cued by audio with Zozo’s voice user interface (VUI). It commands you to turn clockwise in a circle and takes 12 photos that it uses to build a 3D snapshot of your body.
Eventually you get a 3D readout that shows you exactly where all your junk is hidden. Once your measurements are taken, you can start shopping.
The selection of clothing from Zozo is currently limited to fashion staples: crewnecks, long sleeves, pocket shirts, v-necks, an oxford button-up and jeans. Alissa Gould-Simon, vice president of marketing, explains that the reason for that is to keep Zozo’s offerings evergreen, rather than let them be ‘trend driven.’
‘Zozo is designed to embrace and support users to create a foundation for their wardrobe,’ she says.
These aren’t your bargain basement basics (tees are listed at $22, jeans are worth $58) but some of the cost is offset on the consumer side by the fact that the Zozosuit is free of charge. Gould-Simon explains that the products are ‘designed and sourced in Japan’ and adhere to the Japanese ‘attention to design,’ but that they are all manufactured in China, allowing for mass production.
In my order, I went for two staples. A pair of dark blue jeans and a simple grey crewneck tee. You can also customize the fit of your products to some degree — add a few centimeters to the hem of your jeans or the waistline, should you please. And then you wait.
In general, shipping times will vary between three and four weeks, depending on the type of apparel you’ve ordered. Those are lengthy timelines, but what really matters is what happens on the other end. How do the clothes actually fit?
High-kick a piñata
My grey crewneck and dark blue jeans arrive just after two weeks. They have that rubbery, well-traveled-package smell, but I try them on immediately.
The tee is light, airy and wide. It fits well, has a good length and feels soft. It’s not form-fitting. The jeans sit around my waist with a little give but the length is as expected. I’d hoped they’d taper off at the bottom a little more, hugging my ankles more closely, but they’re not quite as skinny as I prefer. I feel snug, though comfortable and unrestricted. I feel like I could high-kick a piñata and the jeans would abide.
I’m no fashion icon. I wear the same winter cap five days a week, completely ignoring the worn and frayed stitching on top. My wardrobe is like staring at a drab afternoon — all greys and blacks — and predominantly consists of shorts. I don’t like going into stores to buy clothes or being hassled in a changing room as I hop around trying to get my foot through a tight pant leg. That’s why the Zozosuit works for me: I’m fashion-agnostic and it gives me access to basics that just fit, no fuss.
And I’m not alone. A quick glance at the #zozosuit hashtag on Instagram reveals tens of thousands of users posing and prancing in their Zozosuits and associated Zozo jeans, tees and button-ups. With an entrepreneurial, young founder capturing the attention and imagination of the public, Zozo has a powerful new billboard. Gould-Simon says that Maezawa dresses in his own label’s clothes on most days, and at a recent press event for his moon adventure, he was head to toe in Zozo. He even created a bespoke collection for that outfit.
The intent of Zozo from Maezawa down, Gould-Simon says, is to empower people to look good and that remains a core aspect of Zozo’s vision. For now, there are no plans to use the measurement technology in any way outside apparel, but there are obvious applications for weight management and tracking that would complement the already existing service. Still, Zozo is focused on getting the Zozosuit — not just Maezawa — in front of the world.
‘It’s a really exciting phase for us. It’s a new experience and taking that directly to users around the world will allow us to keep improving,’ says Gould-Simon.
The data and the doughnut
Still, the Zozosuit had me worried. It had me thinking I should consider what I eat a little more often.
But that’s not what the Zozosuit is designed for. It’s an impressive piece of technology that accurately mapped the unusual, rotund contours of my body. The process is so simple that it’s hard to believe a stretchy, black-and-white catsuit and a phone can provide accurate measurements, but — judging by the clothes I’m wearing as I type this — they did.
The self-burn was temporary. When the clothes arrived, they were the frozen peas I could apply to my psyche to ease the pain. A new form of retail therapy: no sales assistants, no fitting rooms, no need for returns. Just me and a tight bodysuit in an empty room.
But what of all that data?
Businesses are increasingly gathering biometric data, with the promise it can make our lives just a little bit better. Smartphones, social media giants and even Australian airports are already using such data as an identifier to unlock phones or get you through airport security faster. That raises questions about privacy — and we’ve seen enough scandals in the past year to know that the consumers are concerned about just who has access to their personal information.
Zozo has now amassed so much data on its largely Japanese consumer base that Maezawa announced the Zozosuit would be phased out by March 2019. That data is so valuable to Zozo, because it allows the company to recommend your fit based solely on height, weight and other basic details — without the need to produce costly Zozosuits. A spokesperson for Zozo insists that change is ‘being implemented in Japan, but other markets will continue to experience the measurement process using the Zozosuit.’
Yet the logical endpoint — provided with enough data — means that an ill-fitting, vacuum-spandex suit may not be needed at all in the future.
And yeah, I ate the doughnut.