A new development is taking place in the fashion industry. It is a trend that rhymes with the principles of sustainability as well as the expansion of social media and online interactions. More and more fashion brands are inviting the customer to participate in the final stage of design, so called participatory design. With online user-friendly tools, fashion companies of all sorts – from clothing companies to shoe stores and wristwatch brands – are giving customers the possibility to choose among various design options to create their own preferred products. Through an interactive web-based platform, the customer is given the possibility to choose among a set of predefined alternatives in terms of color, model, size and more. By combining various options, the customer can create his or her own unique product based on personal preference. Some companies use participatory design as an additional service for their customers, while others have created a core business model solely based on this mode of web-based interaction.
A clothing company that has recently added this interactive design tool to their homepage is the Swedish company Boomerang. Through their official homepage, Boomerang offers customers the possibility to create their own down jacket by picking a preferred color on the outer fabric, lining, zipper and buttons, as well as a personal signature. The customer can choose among 10 color options for the outer fabric and lining respectively, and five color options for the zipper and buttons respectively. The price of this personalized product is set at 2 900 SEK (300 Euro).
Another company to use an interactive design strategy is Shoes of Prey. This is an up-and-coming shoe brand from Sydney that was founded in 2009. Through individual choices of design and size, the company explains, the customer can create his or her “perfect pair of shoes”. In an easy three-step procedure, the customer chooses shape, color and height of the shoes, using a 3D Designer web tool. The company then custom-makes the selected design and ships the shoes anywhere in the world in around four weeks. Options for shape come in 12 essential modes (e.g. ballet flats, stilettos or sandals), while fabric options come in 170 varieties to create almost unlimited choice of fabric shade and texture. Still, if not satisfied, the shoes can be returned within 365 days and will be fully refunded, or be remade free of charge.
Yet another pioneering brand is the online Swedish wristwatch company Fewsome, which was established in Stockholm in 2009. Fewsome’s business idea is to offer unique metallic and plastic wristwatches to a large market. Customers participate in the final stage of design by combining various color options for the model, dial, hands, wristband and a few other details (such as engraving). The present design options may result in around 1 billion unique watches – which should be enough to please most individuals’ taste. Each watch is mounted by hand based on customer’s order, thus avoiding overproduction and waste generation during manufacturing. All watches contain Miyota movements (clockwork), which are manufactured by Citizen in Japan. The participatory design process is made possible through an adjusted IT-platform, eCommerce and special logistics. There are no middle hands and shops; instead the watches are delivered directly from manufacturing to the customer’s doorstep, which keeps price and transportation to a minimum. A custom-made plastic wristwatch costs 595 SEK (57 GBP) and a metallic wristwatch 1.195 SEK (114 GBP). Environmental responsibility, high quality and reliability are also central principles to Fewsome. Suppliers are carefully selected and controlled, and chosen geographically close to production. It is a visionary and ambitious company that was an early pioneer in 2009, but which will probably be accompanied by more likeminded in the near future.
Of course, these mentioned companies are not the only ones to move fashion industry in this new direction. Other brands worth mentioning are Anna Ruohonen in Paris, Grannies Inc. in the UK, La Chemiserie Traditionnelle (a Spanish franchise with a personal shop in Stockholm), and the Swedish brands Beltstore and Shirtbird. And of course, there are still more.
In sum, the interactive strategy – also referred to as “participatory design” or “fashion-on-demand” – is a clear and rising trend. Hopefully it has come to stay, not only for the benefit of individual customers but also for the sake of the global environment.