Amazon gets a patent to change fast fashion

Amazon received approval on a patent for an on-demand clothing manufacturing warehouse that could redefine fashion production flow.

The Seattle-based e-commerce giant has been dabbling in fashion retail for some time and with approval on a 2015 patent, Amazon might redefine clothing manufacturing while they’re at it.

Traditionally, manufacturers make clothes over weeks and months and then sell them. If items don’t sell, they get discounted and the company can lose money. The Amazon patent, as reported by Recode, describes a computerized on-demand system in which clothing is only produced after the order has been placed. According to the patent, if successful, Amazon could apply the same system to other merchandise, such as “footwear, bedding, curtains, towels” as well as anything made with “paper, plastic, leather, rubber and other materials.”

The on-demand manufacturing system is, like most things from Amazon, based on data and automation. A “networked environment” would provide new ways to increase efficiency by collecting and organizing orders by factors like geographic location, fabric or assembly requirements. In addition to a “computing device,” the system would include textile printers, cutters and an assembly line. The warehouse would also have cameras to photograph garments during manufacturing and provide feedback for future alterations.

Per the patent,

Once various textile products are printed, cut and assembled according to the orders, they can be processed through a quality check, photographed for placement in an electronic commerce system, shipped to customers and/or stored in a materials handling facility for order fulfillment. By aggregating orders from various geographic locations and coordinating apparel assembly processes on a large scale, the embodiments provide new ways to increase efficiency in apparel manufacturing.

Amazon has slowly but surely establishing itself as a player in fashion retail as one of the largest apparel sellers in the country. Beyond its significant stock, Amazon also sells eight of its own clothing brands. On-demand manufacturing would hypothetically take the cheap and immediate access to new trends that has become indicative of fast fashion and eliminate the overhead of over production.

Still, it’s worth remembering that there is a dark side to both fast fashion and Amazon efficiency. Fast fashion leaders like H&M, Forever 21 and Zara regularly field accusations of low pay, terrible working conditions and industrial accidents. (Amazon itself is not immune to labor scandal.)

Like Amazon’s record-fast shipping, fast fashion also presents a certain risk to the environment. The Chicago Tribune reports that Americans throw out more than 11 million tons of clothing each year and the materials that make fast fashion are especially bad for the environment.

What Amazon does with the patent, and how fast they move, remains to be seen. Amazon could very well change the clothing manufacturing and retail industry works, it wouldn’t be the first time.