By In #SxSW

Truly ”some of a kind”: mass-customization in fashion

Fashion is personality. It’s a way of expressing your individuality, externalizing who you are and putting it out in the world. We are all unique, and creating a personal style can be a way of voicing that uniqueness. For most of us though, we do this with less-than-unique means. Traditionally, one of a kind pieces and haute couture has been fashion for the happy few (vintage stars and DIY queens excluded 🙂 ). For the average fashion lover, this uniqueness is created by a personal combination. Mass-customization challenges this model, by adding a layer of consumer personalization to an efficient quasi-mass production process. Not truly “one of a kind”, but it’s getting darn close.

In a market place where consumers are looking for authenticity and self-expression, brands need to be about the consumer to survive. A production process based on consumer needs and wishes seems like one way to tackle this, now doesn’t it? Aubrie Pagano, CEO of Bow & Drape and Jodie Fox Co-Founder of Shoes of Prey, entrepreneurs and mass-customization evangelists, sure seem to think so.

Pagano: 2015 has delivered a customized world. Fashion is a mean to express your identity. And how better to do that than by getting involved in the production process and getting a highly personalized item?

Fox: Fashion is a highly emotional purchase. Consumers buy a product to represent a more authentic self.

With the Burger Kind “have it your way” campaign as the oldest example, and Nike ID as one of the most well-known ones, mass-customization is an established practice in the retail space.  Ranging from user-driven alternation to true collaborative customization, different brands have been experimenting with this, with various degrees of success.  A strong value proposition, tight supply chain and ultra-flexible production process are crucial for playing this game successfully. In the current manufacturing context, that golden formula remains a challenge. However, Pagano and Fox are optimistic about the (near) future and innovation to both support and transform this business model.

Fox: Innovations like 3D printing will disrupt manufacturing and remove many of the barriers of mass- customization, such as stocking, waste and limits to the customizability. Eventually, the manufacturing might even happen at home. I see a scenario where you open your closet in the morning, develop the perfect shoe for that day and have them print while you are taking a shower.

Now how cool would that be! However, the question arises what the role of retail will be in this new reality. Will we still need brands if we can print our own fashion?

Fox: Designers will always have value for the creative aspect, such as creating shapes and selecting colors for example. We might be heading to a time where design will be the essence of what we do, where fashion brands are not selling physical products but design files.

If you need me, I’ll be getting myself a “some of a kind” pair of pumps, dreaming about my very own 3D printing closet.

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