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How can a one-person tailor shop deliver a suit to you in hours, offering infinitely more styles, colors, and detailed customization than the largest department store today?

I am shopping for a suit, or perhaps just a sports coat. Today I might walk around a few department or specialty stores in a mall, and take my choice from their selection. However, ExtremeJustInTime and ExtremeCustomization allow a store to deliver a product they don't physically have in-store when the customer visits. Technology such as CAD/CAM and VR (Virtual Reality) can assist. The customer tries on and feels the fit of clothing that the store stocks in a single color, but sees on a screen or VR headset the colors and patterns they will have when delivered.

However it can go much farther. I enter the shop of a tailor I have used several times in the past. I know that she is an expert in mens' clothing, specializing in jackets and sports coats. She has an extensive network of trusted suppliers for the products she needs regularly, and a well-honed automatic network for less common items. She may not have touched a needle in years, but she is a master CAD/CAM (Computer-Aided Design/Computer-Aided Manufacturing) designer and my interface (a fabric term originally, she reminds me) to her own extremely capable manufacturing network -- which has many common components with the other twenty tailors on the block, but is uniquely her own.

She has my measurements from six months ago, but I pop back into the scanning booth just to make sure my sojourn in Paris hasn't changed them. (It has!) I also bring some photos and video of the settings I expect to wear the coat in. We look quickly on the large monitors at pictures of me wearing dozens of styles, merged back into the still and moving pictures I brought. I have several ideas, and she adds more. She illustrates with fashion show footage and other satisfied customers suave appearance. Then I don Virtual Reality goggles and begin trying on clothes -- she doesn't have the selection of a store, but I need to feel the texture, even if they don't fit quite right -- the virtual reality display shows how the real tailored item will bend and fall, even if what I'm wearing is different.

Following her suggestion, I eventually choose a subtly woven pattern from a new designer. He is in Hong Kong, and his styles are not popular yet in New York, but no matter: the six threads the pattern requires are available in the Bronx. If I had wanted a different color thread than the 50 available locally in this material, there might have been a delay of several hours for custom dying. As it is, just-in-time looms in one of her regular suppliers on the outskirts of Newark can schedule the job for 45 minutes from now.

We move to the minor details. As a finishing touch, I decide on elongated buttons in a rare wood. Her five usual button manufacturers can't help, but they refer her to Jorge Menendez, whose two-person carpentry shop on Long Island specializes in small wooden objects. He knows the wood I want, and orders a small board from a specialty lumberyard in Queens: enough for my buttons and one more customer just in case. His machines download the design, and he commits to delivery in two hours. The cutting and sewing will take place in a huge automated factory, also in Newark, but the buttons will be part of "final assembly" at a shop in the Garment District of Manhattan. I leave, satisfied with the result, although I know the forty minutes she spent will add up to a hefty fee. (Those !@#$% buttons took ten minutes!)

As I enter my apartment four hours later, the super gingerly hands me my beautiful new jacket in one hand, and the Indonesian take-out dinner I called for on my way home -- with gooey peanut sauce dripping from the bottom -- in the other. He even pushes the elevator button for me, but when I get to my door, I need to juggle. The physical world always re-asserts itself eventually.

By HowieGoodell