When it comes to clothing, branding is big: People love advertising their fashion-forward choices by wearing brand name T-shirts, jeans and jackets. But there are also plenty of people who deride blatant logos in favour of more unique means of self-expression. That’s where customization comes in.
A range of apparel companies are putting online design and configuration tools into the hands of their customers. Online shoppers can pick and choose clothing details, colours, styles, fabrics and sizes – in effect, creating their own unique threads.
Marketing has always been about understanding what a customer’s needs are, and then delivering products and services to fulfill those needs. Customizable clothing helps take the guesswork out of that process.
The advantage for companies that embrace co-creation is that they only manufacture items that have been configured and paid for in advance. So supply always equals demand, making the model both clever and efficient.
More specifically, there are three consumer needs that custom fashion fulfills: the need to be part of the design process, the need for individuality, and the need for the perfect fit.
The need to be part of the design process
Customers want to have input into the goods they purchase. Academics have dubbed this the “Ikea Effect”: Consumers place a higher value on goods they create (or assemble) themselves, even if the end product is less than ideal.
Fruit of the Loom’s Pick Your Perfect Pair website allows shoppers to create their own bra to fit their exact size (choose from “just about” or “exact” cup sizes), unique shape (combine different left and right cup sizes), individual style (mix and match patterns) and support needs (adjust the band width).
Here’s the problem, though. The tool gives users free rein to make bad design choices. What’s needed is a balance between total creative freedom and total constraint. There is nothing on the site, for instance, that prevents customers from choosing bizarre colour or pattern combinations.
I’d like to see some sort of “configuration rules” that help users match colours, or a “fashion alert” that warns them if patterns aren’t complementary. That way customers can be assured they’re making sound design choices.
The need for individuality
By involving consumers in the process, businesses are moving away from the “company knows best” model to “consumer knows best.”
As Tom Peters argued in his 1997 article “The Brand Called You,” self-commoditizing has become the norm. Egosurfing, commonly known as “Googling yourself,” becomes more palatable when it’s referred to as online identity management, but the activity still betrays an increasingly me-focused mentality. The Internet has made us all into brands.
Shoe shoppers can unleash their inner designer at the Australian-based Shoes of Prey website, where the motto is “Your design. Our craftsmanship.” Customers choose the heel, toe, fabric, colour and embellishments, and the shoes are then hand-made by the company’s craftsmen.
The site puts the consumer in control, transforming them from passive shopper to (nearly) full-blown designer. Move over, Jimmy Choo: With a $185 to $335 price range, ladies get one-of-a-kind creations for much less than designer shoe prices.
The need for the perfect fit
Perhaps the strongest argument for customizable clothing is that it gives customers a fit that off-the-rack clothing just can’t match.
Boston-based custom menswear site Blank Label has built this notion right into its mission statement: “Brands claim superior fit, but the only true fit is custom.”
And it’s the same story over at California-based Indi where its motto is “Clothing for INDIviduals who know what they want.” Indi’s in the business of designing custom-made jeans for all body types, seeking to convert skeptics with its “perfect fit promise.” Not satisfied? Buyers can return their garments for alterations.
With all of these examples, the value proposition is pretty clear: When brands relinquish some control and let consumers in on the design process, what’s lost in brand recognition is gained in customer satisfaction.