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Fabric + algorithm: The fit geek's quest for a suit that fits

A couple of fashion guys team up with a space geek to help men buy the best fitting suit online and try to rise above the tech fit fray.

Donna Tam Staff Writer / News
Donna Tam covers Amazon and other fun stuff for CNET News. She is a San Francisco native who enjoys feasting, merrymaking, checking her Gmail and reading her Kindle.
Donna Tam
3 min read
Combat Gent

Buying men's suits online sounds risky, but a few fit geeks think they can get the right fit better than anyone else.

Two cousins with Las Vegas fashion industry ties, Mo Melwani and Vishaal Melwani, have teamed up with former space geek Raj Sareen to launch Sareen's new tech fit algorithm. Their site sells men's business wear and are aiming for the customers who don't like to shop, so a better fit means less returns and more repeat business. The technology, powered by Sareen's startup Styku, helps consumers find their correct clothing size online with just a few pieces of information: age, weight and height.

Tech fit is not new and it's a crowded space right now -- other companies, like Clothes Horse and True Fit, use similar methods -- but it hasn't been mastered.

"Nobody's really run away with the market yet," Sareen said. "Fit is not just about the dimension of the garment, it's also about fabric, it's also how they wear them, the shape of the person -- not just their measurement."

Sareen, who holds degrees in space sciences and physics, wants to change that with Styku. The algorithm debuted on the Melwanis' new online retail store, Combat Gent, today.

Styku impressed investors at a Microsoft event for startups last summer by turning a Kinect's motion-sensing video game controller into a body scanner that told users what their measurements were and gave them a virtual mock up of how would look on them.

While that tech hasn't been perfected for the consumer market yet, Sareen said his company's fit algorithm takes into account things other companies don't. The company uses 3D apparel technology, cloth simulation, and computer-aided design to pull together its algorithm. The technology takes less input from customers -- which means they'll have to answer less questions that other tech fit services -- and factors in details like how a certain fabric may stretch or how a man's body may sag after a certain age.

"Certain fabrics drape a certain way, certain fabric stretch a certain way, so getting all the numbers right doesn't necessarily mean it's going to work," Mo Melwani said.

This is why Combat Gent choose Styku. Sareen understands the garment industry. Styku's parent company TukaTech, run by Sareen's parents, creates software used by companies to design garment patterns. The cousins appreciates that. Vishaal Melwani said they grew up in the fashion business -- they were yelled at if they didn't hold a measuring tape correctly.

Styku is also partnering with several other companies for other types of clothes, including a test run for another tricky fit challenge -- jeans. Sareen said he's been testing his algorithm out with a popular national chain (he didn't want to publicly say who because they are still in the testing phase).

Both companies have a ways to go to prove fit tech works. During the trial run on the Combat Gent they tested the algorithm on small sampling -- 67 men. For three of those men, all of whom were above six feet tall, Styku's algorithm picked the wrong sizes. But, all the other men found success with the algorithm. Vishaal Melwani knows it isn't a perfect science yet, but he thinks Styku's ties to fashion will make the difference in the long run.

"Fit technology has to start from the clothing," he said. "It can't start from pure engineering."