Is Time Right for Custom-Made Clothing?

Discussion
Aug 06, 2009
George Anderson

By George Anderson

It’s been tried before and
didn’t work. Consumers have had the option of buying custom-made clothing,
such as Levi’s “Personal Pair” jeans in the nineties, but found that
buying off-the-rack was good enough, especially when price was factored
in.

Now, a number of start-ups
in the Boston area are looking at bringing customization of clothing
and accessories to the masses even as the nation seeks to come out of
the worst economy since the Great Depression.

“When I grew up, in the 1970s,
we all wore our hair the same way and we wore the same clothes,” Deb Bessemer,
CEO of Paragon Lake Inc., told The Boston Globe.
Ms. Bessemer’s company sells software and a touchscreen display that enables
consumers to create their own jewelry pieces.

“The new generation of people in their 20s is more individualistic. They don’t
want the same ring or pair of earrings that their friends also have,” she said.

Another company, NetVirta, believes it has a solution to address one of
the reasons consumers don’t buy customized clothing. Consumers typically
pick a size (small, medium, etc.) and make the purchase. Customized clothing
takes a lot of measurements to get the fit right. NetVirta is developing
software that makes use of a series of six to eight photos of a consumer
at different angles to build a three-dimensional model used to create
the clothing.

Discussion
Questions: Is the time right for custom-made clothing for large numbers
of consumers? Can the price be brought down with technology to create
a mass market for individualized items?

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12 Comments on "Is Time Right for Custom-Made Clothing?"


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Ralph Jacobson
Guest
11 years 9 months ago

Target Corp. had this online a few years ago. That’s right, mass customization from Target. I think it was called, ‘Target to a T’. You could get a custom dress shirt or other items from a limited selection of men and women’s clothing.

It has always been the right time to do this. Too many people fall outside the mainstream sizes, and have limited selections in the store that do carry their sizes. A nice, high-quality, fashion-forward women’s line of plus sizes would be a success. It has to be high quality, though.

Dick Seesel
Guest
11 years 9 months ago

There are two trends at play here: Consumers’ desire for more customization across all categories, and the issue of “standardized sizes” not satisfying the fit needs of many shoppers. Everything from Amazon to iTunes falls into the first category, and there have been some examples of websites at least trying to fulfill custom fit needs. The question is whether this idea can be translated successfully into a bricks-and-mortar operation. Given pressures on SKU rationalization and payroll hours, this may be an idea whose time has not come…yet.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
11 years 9 months ago

I’m with Ralph. It’s time to do this!…particularly to serve smaller women, victims of aspirational sizing on the part of manufacturers, who must shop in teen stores to find anything that fits, and plus-sized people, who have inadequate options. The market is there!

Lee Peterson
Guest
11 years 9 months ago

Ok, a good exercise for anyone in the apparel business these days is to take a trip out and see the masses. Go to a ball game, go to the zoo, hit the mall in Columbus, Ohio, see the center of the Belle Curve. The people. Americans. Do you know why? Because THERE IS NO FASHION…none. And, looking at them as we do quite often, I wouldn’t say it’s due to a lack of options to purchase said fashion items, they can be had…the lack of fashion is on the demand side: people just don’t care! American’s love price, not fashion!

So, regarding mass customization of products–the iPod or cell phone; yes…apparel; forget it. Unless of course you’re talking about being able to write on your T-shirt (or pants) with a marker, that would work. (The other issue here, all kidding aside, is execution; how do you produce 100 SKUs a day out of your back room? Again; forget it.)

David Morse
Guest
David Morse
11 years 9 months ago

I’m a Levi’s alumnus from the ’90s and I’m with Richard on this one. Personal Pair was a great idea. And though much has changed since that time, we were bandying about the same ideas that young people wanted customization. They did, and that’s more true now.

But generating the volume and the cost efficiencies to make it work was a challenge. From a consumer perspective, the Internet generation is used to immediate gratification, and making a custom pair of jeans fast is hard to do.

It’s a great idea. I’m just not sure its time has come.

Charles P. Walsh
Guest
Charles P. Walsh
11 years 9 months ago

This is an idea whose time will never come for the masses (at least in apparel).

Manufacturing custom apparel (bespoke) may be technically simpler today (utilizing digital photos to create a 3D image and translated into a cuttable/sewable pattern) but it doesn’t change the fact that there is no scale or efficiency in making one article of clothing at a time. The complexity of apparel manufacturing is lost on many but involves extensive manual work from pattern making, marker making, fabric laying and cutting and then of course sewing. When these individual steps are done for scale (thousands) then the relatively high cost of labor is spread across a large quantity of items.

Custom fit clothing available to all? Sure a great idea, but one that can not be commercialized in a cost effective manner, no matter the current imaging technology available.

By the way, I googled NetVirta and while they have a website, it is a domain name holding place, no site or other information provided.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
11 years 9 months ago
The tradition of bespoke lives on in many modern permutations; however, I see the custom clothing customer profile as still being mature, discerning and patient rather than young and impulsive. Young people are perfectly comfortable customizing their own clothing vs. delegating that to someone else. When I explored options for copying my favorite tailored shirt, I landed on an etailer that does just that in a staggering variety of patterns, colors and fabrics. Eight weeks after sending my model shirt to them, I received five perfectly fitting replicas in much better fabrics than the original and for about 25% more than I would have paid in a traditional retailer. The price was great, the process a bit time-consuming but worth the wait. I’m surprised by how many of my friends and colleagues have admired the end result yet won’t consider doing it themselves, mainly because they perceive themselves to be too hard to fit (ironically). Even with prices coming down, I think we are a few years away from uninitiated consumers understanding and utilizing custom… Read more »
Bernice Hurst
Guest
11 years 9 months ago

This article puts an alternative point of view much better than I can – Bespoke suits beat pinstripe in recession

Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
11 years 9 months ago

The big problem with this is that I don’t think you can do it for a small premium. I think the economics of the thing (piece goods, CMT, etc.) would require a pretty significant premium, and I don’t see the consumer paying that premium. This strikes me as a niche business, and a very small niche business at best. As much as apparel has been commoditized, there’s still enough variety off the rack to satisfy most needs and fashion tastes, at far lower prices than you could realistically hope to pay for custom-made.

Christopher P. Ramey
Guest
11 years 9 months ago

Customization is inconsistent with today’s mass consumer trends. It is the wrong time.

For the record, bespoke clothing never went away. It’s a small part of the market; where customers expect to be hand measured for their hand-made suits. Technology need not apply.

Tia PR
Guest
Tia PR
11 years 9 months ago

As Public Relations at a bespoke clothier, Michael Ferrera in Los Angeles I must say we have been talking about this for a while!

The “today’s generation” are not the masses. They are very unique individuals and understand the value of being just that. With the knowledge of custom clothing growing in the United States, we feel it is simply a matter of time before people begin to see the value of investing in custom clothing. Now, once they know; the question is “where to go?” Of course (shameless plug) http://www.michaelferrera.com is an option among a few other good clothiers in America. Once the option will be available in more places, as suggested, the question will then be: the “right” place to get custom clothing. None the less, very good topic and I will be following and look forward to your comments.

Brian Anderson
Guest
11 years 9 months ago

There are two types of clothing shoppers, (1) Those with a fashion sense and (2) everyone else. While we all want to be individuals and have items that fit the way we want them to fit, we aren’t; willing to take the time. The fashion customer will, however America eats more hot dogs then steak. My point: the masses will not drive this concept.

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