GETTING a custom men's shirt made used to involve visiting a tailor in the dusty corners of Lucky Plaza or Peninsula Plaza.

But now it's just a click away.

The idea that new technology could make a nice fit with tailoring is the brainchild of home-grown firm Marcella, which was set up by four entrepreneurs who met as undergraduates.

The four - Mr Alvin Teo, Mr Lai Chang Wen, Mr Daniel Chui and Mr Firas Alsuwaigh - wanted to bring custom apparel into the modern era and initially ventured onto the retail scene in 2010 with a brick-and-mortar store at The Cathay shopping centre.

Despite not having a personal interest in fashion, they saw an opportunity to "infuse technology and substantially improve and modernise the industry", said Mr Alsuwaigh, 28.

The company was outsourcing production at first but it had a vision of controlling its supply chain to make prices more competitive.

It acquired its first factory in May 2011 but ran into issues with scaling up production and ensuring that its products were of consistent quality.

In making a shirt, a craftsperson called a "drafter" first takes a customer's measurements and then makes a template or "pattern".

The heavy reliance on drafters and the shortage of skilled ones make it difficult for custom apparel companies to expand.

Furthermore, different drafters may create different patterns from the same measurements, which leads to inconsistent products.

That was when the company turned to technology after a strategic rethink of the manufacturing process.

The founders realised that the art of the drafter was really just "all maths" and so they created their own algorithms to turn measurements into patterns.

As "anyone can be trained to man the computers", the problem of scaleability was eliminated, while the algorithms ensured consistency.

By using laser cutters to cut out the pattern pieces, the drafting process became entirely automated, allowing for both lower prices and faster production.

This brought down production costs and saved time, said Mr Alsuwaigh.

The typical drafter takes 20 to 30 minutes to create a pattern for a shirt, but Marcella's system wraps it up in only three minutes.

The shirts are then produced in Marcella's factory in Guangzhou.

While Mr Alsuwaigh acknowledges that "made in China" carries negative connotations, he explains that China has superior infrastructure, machinery and skilled labour compared with Singapore when it comes to clothes manufacturing.

Prices for Marcella's shirts start from $69, which Mr Alsuwaigh says is "as low as it gets" for tailored apparel.

A 100 per cent cotton tailored shirt typically costs between $60 and $100 at traditional shops.

After the computerisation of its production model, the logical next step for Marcella was taking its business online.

It launched its online sales platform in April 2011.

The website allows customers to choose a fabric, input their measurements and have their shirts shipped to them, no matter where in the world.

Customers can expect to receive their shirts within three weeks, the same timeframe as a traditional tailor's.

Marcella's website receives an average of 16,000 hits every month, and e-commerce has expanded from 5 per cent of total sales in 2013 to 12 per cent by the end of last year.

While the company declined to disclose its revenue figures, it has produced around 100,000 shirts since it opened its first store in 2010 and turnover has grown 15-fold since 2011, said Mr Alsuwaigh.

It has five outlets in Singapore and one in New York, and has previously held pop-up stores in London, Sydney and Melbourne.

Mr Alsuwaigh said Marcella aims for "a marriage between the (online and offline channels)", with customers hearing about the brand online before visiting an outlet, or repeat customers visiting the shop before turning to the website for greater convenience.

With the success of its sales model, Marcella plans to expand its presence both online and offline.

The company opened a store in New York this year with the help of International Enterprise Singapore, and is planning to expand into Indonesia and Malaysia.

It is also going to revamp its website to simplify the process of customising a shirt by offering pre-designed options for customers to tweak and by supplying more options for how shirts can fit.

Mr Alsuwaigh said the company has ambitious long-term goals.

No company has so far managed to grow an international brand whose core proposition is custom apparel, he noted.

Marcella hopes to focus on expanding globally, "with the aim of not just growing our brand, but also making sure that custom apparel is accessible and affordable worldwide".