Consortium is made-to-order for people who want customized brands

Photos: Consortium
Aug 09, 2018
Matthew Stern

If customers want customization, then Consortium might have what they’re looking for.

The retailer has opened a series of pop-ups all dedicated to providing made-to-order products from fashion and beauty brands, according to Ad Age. The retailer’s recently-opened New York City pop-up shop features products from brands like Olfactory and Awl & Sundry.

Olfactory is an NYC-based brand that allows store visitors to create customized perfumes in personalized bottles, and Awl & Sundry is a brand that allows website and store visitors to create custom-fitting, custom-styled shoes. Consortium’s NYC pop-up is the third in the U.S. and the company has a prospective 15 pop-ups planned globally (12 in the U.S.) with an eye toward turning the most successful ones into permanent locations.

Some studies have indicated that customers’ expectation for customized and personalized products has been growing, and the number of brands big and small experimenting with customizable products has grown to meet that demand.

Innovations in production technology have played a big role in enabling new kinds of customization. For instance, last year Boston-based retailer Ministry of Fashion installed a 3-D knitting machine capable of churning out a blazer customized to spec in 90 minutes.

Consortium is made-to-order for people who want customized brands

Photo: Consortium

And direct-to-consumer distribution models, which put vendors in closer contact with individual customers, have likewise led to an increase in customization. For instance, D2C brand Function of Beauty uses an online questionnaire to gather customers’ preferences and needs for shampoo and conditioner and then mixes their products to suit. 

Big name brands have gotten into the advanced customization act, as well. Both Under Armour and Nike have launched solutions that allow fans to quickly create highly-customized sneakers. 

But Consortium’s focus on bringing together boutique brands with customizable offerings under one roof seems to rely on consumers seeking out brands just because their products are customizable.

Consortium’s founder Sam Payrovi sees the movement toward customization growing as customers begin to regard such offerings as less of a luxury, according to Ad Age. He calls this evolution “democratizing customization.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Are customers looking for customized beauty and fashion in one place in the way that Consortium offers? Will the concept survive beyond the novelty stage?

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15 Comments on "Consortium is made-to-order for people who want customized brands"

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Ken Lonyai

There’s a market for customization, but it has limitations such as material/process limits, viability, cost, and consumer understanding. It will be interesting to see how much traction Consortium can get and maintain over time as a profitable venture.

Mark Ryski

While I agree with the general notion that some shoppers are seeking customized products, I’m very skeptical that this is some form of a larger trend. It’s one thing to have a successful pop-up store, it’s an entirely different proposition to create a truly successful and sustainable retail concept. I believe this concept will remain largely niche — and it might even enjoy some success as a store-within-a-store with a department store partner looking to add to the store experience — but likely not more.

Dave Bruno

Consortium may be ahead of the mainstream curve with this concept, but I do think before long, as prices (and delivery times) shrink, consumers will demand far more “personalized fashion” and far less “fast fashion.” Given that I believe they are are a bit early to market with this concept, I think their strategy to test the market with pop-ups first is sound.

Bob Phibbs

Just because I can order something customized does not mean it is better. I tried Proper Cloth and the shirt was fine but not worth $160 to have my name on the label. I think many consumers will learn that the reason they buy Clarks or Jimmy Choo or whoever is due to fit and quality.

Nikki Baird

I think you have to separate fashion from beauty when it comes to personalization. While there has been a definite trend in fashion away from “looking like everyone else” — which personalization could easily enable — most “customized” fashion sits at luxury-level prices, and so it’s still a bit more of a novelty.

In beauty, I think this is the future. We’ve already seen beauty brands like L’Oreal experiment with custom-mixing foundation colors, and Alibaba enabling personalized beauty shopping experiences that start with getting a skin profile — a profile that then drives all of the product exploration and recommendations that follow.

I think endpoint manufacturing — whether 3-D printing, engraving or custom-mixing — will be much easier to pull off in beauty where a foundation base, for example, can be customized with a tint and with additives based on your skin needs, than in fashion, where you’re looking at large scale machines whether you’re talking about knitting or shoe forming, even when it’s just to manufacture one piece.

Ken Morris

While there hasn’t been a big push for large apparel retailers to offer custom-sized clothing yet, as made-to-measure startups like Indochino, eShakti and Sumissura gain traction, that will likely change. Today’s consumers expect personalized services and products that are one-of-a-kind. With custom-tailored and designed garments now offered at a fraction of historical bespoke clothing prices, it has created a lucrative niche. Retailers may opt to follow Consortium’s lead and open stores-within-a-store or pop-up shops with some of these custom-made brands or go direct to overseas suppliers and disintermediate the startups.

On an individual item perspective, margins are not necessarily better on custom-made clothing than mass-produced products. However, you can ensure your overall margin rates on custom-made apparel, as you won’t have any obsolete inventory or inventory markdowns. With 3-D printers becoming more agile and affordable, one day we may see most products being built to order with markdowns and obsolete inventory becoming a thing of the past.

Jeff Sward

Great point about not having any obsolete finished inventory. Similar to when a wholesaler can order sold inventory from the factory. They are buying post-market. If they buy pre-market, they are guessing, no matter how much prior season data they have. “Custom” has applications on both small and large scales. You are selling or buying exactly what is wanted/needed. Nothing more, nothing less. Knowns versus unknowns.

Bob Amster

This discussion evokes memories of seamstresses and tailors. Remember them? This is what they did, but on a scale of one! Technology may help to enable the likes of Consortium to scale the concept but I am skeptical about making this an affordable proposition. By definition, customization means lowering the efficiency in manufacture. So how is this concept going to be affordable?

Art Suriano

I see customization of products as having a great future. However, it won’t be for everything or everyone. So those chasing after that business need to be careful. I can easily see the individual who might be an in-between size person like myself signing up immediately for the custom fitting blazer. However, I don’t see the average consumer worried too much about custom shampoos and even perfumes. It takes time to think of these things, and if the reward doesn’t indeed blow you away, you’re more inclined not to do it the next time.

There will be those “loyal to everything” customers but how big that market will be and how often they will shop is yet to be determined. My advice for those investing in customization is lots of testing and to move slowly. Otherwise, they may find themselves with a fantastic business that only lasted a short time before going bankrupt.

Ray Riley

I remember in 2004-2005 as a young athlete spending hours on Nike’s website, which at the time had a state-of-the-art customization tool now commonly known as NikeID. Customers have been and are looking for customized products, whether that’s a pair of football cleats or a bottle of Moët. The concept will survive, but many of the middle men won’t. With 3-D printing and other advancements in technology, the retailers will own the process and distribution in-house.

Georganne Bender

Custom cosmetics and perfumes have been around for a very long time. Bourbon French Parfums has been creating custom scents in the French Quarter since 1843. Custom foundations are available from a variety of cosmetic companies.

But bespoke apparel is another topic all together. If Consortium can provide this apparel-deprived Baby Boomer with great looking clothing that’s made just for me, I’ll be like a heat seeking missile looking for its next pop-up shop.

Shep Hyken

Not all customers want the true customized product. But for those that do, and for the retailers/brands that provide that service, if handled well, you can have a connection that turns into repeat business — even customer loyalty.

James Tenser

In-store knitting machines, 3D printers, and bespoke cosmetics are on the front end of an innovation sequence that leads inevitably to something like the Star Trek replicator.

While we are waiting for that technology to arrive, it’s interesting to see niche players like Consortium and Olfactory pop up with business models that appeal to higher-end shoppers.

Customization is worth paying for when it delivers meaningful benefits. For some shoppers it may be an exact fit or color. For others it may be prestige.

One category where customization is an established tradition is eyeglasses. You can buy readers off the shelf, but if you want superior acuity you have an eye exam and take the Rx (nothing more than a spec sheet) to the optician to have the lenses custom-made. The cost is usually a multiple of the off-the-shelf magnifiers, but the performance and fashion frame choices are far superior.

Not everyone can or will choose the custom option, so tailoring a business to appeal to luxury shoppers is a decent bet.

Min-Jee Hwang

Consumers have always been on the lookout for a way to make the shopping experience their own, including through customized products. I think customized beauty and fashion products is a trend that will continue, just not at scale. It’s good to see it happen with the Consortium at pop-up stores, as that can test the waters. Like with most things retail, cost and convenience for consumers will either grow this trend or shrink it.

7 months 9 days ago

CONSORTIUM here! Love hearing all your insights. Would love to keep this conversation going – what can we answer for you?

"In beauty, I think this is the future. "
"The concept will survive, but many of the middle men won’t."
"This discussion evokes memories of seamstresses and tailors. Remember them? This is what they did, but on a scale of one!"

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