Ralph Lauren to bring on-demand color to its flagship stores

Discussion
Photos: Ralph Lauren
Nov 03, 2021

Ralph Lauren will soon have technology at its disposal that could enable a new degree of product customization, which would make the experience of shopping at its flagship stores more distinctive and sustainable.

The brand is working with Dow Chemical on pioneering a new type of cotton dyeing process, which is more environmentally sound and allows for the coloring of cotton at any point during the production of an article of clothing, according to CNBC. The process, called Ecofast, utilizes 90 percent fewer chemicals, 50 percent less energy and 50 percent less water than traditional apparel dyeing processes. Ralph Lauren’s flagship stores, in particular, may have the technology in place next year. Were that to happen, it would allow customers to dye polo shirts a color of their choosing in-store.

Such an experience would not be Ralph Lauren’s first recent foray into personalized apparel.

Earlier this year the retailer added an on-demand, “Made-To-Order Polo” feature to its direct-to-consumer website. Online customers can choose from hundreds of possible designs to be made to spec when the customer places the order.

On-demand customization technology has grown more popular as the apparel space, especially fast-fashion, has come under fire for being wasteful and environmentally unsustainable. Creating products to spec, in small runs and with less environmentally damaging processes looks like a potential way to meet customer demand without creating huge amounts of excess product.

For a number of years, technologies have been developed which promise a new level of in-store apparel customization. For instance in 2017, Boston-based retailer Ministry of Supply installed a machine capable of “3-D knitting” a blazer to spec in 90 minutes. At the time, the retailer said it foresaw eventually producing one-third of its clothing with that process.

Ministry of Supply continues to tout its 3-D knitted products and began creating 3-D-printed face masks in the early days of the pandemic, according to a National Retail Federation blog.

Amazon.com has likewise been eyeing customizable, on-demand products as the future of apparel. In 2017 the e-tail juggernaut filed a patent for an automated apparel customization system. 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will the use of technologies enabling customization and sustainability be a winner for Ralph Lauren? Do you see personalized apparel becoming a significant trend in fashion retailing over the next decade?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"I like this move as it adds some theater and also allows consumers to customize their products, which is becoming more important. "
"Customers today want customization of everything from the way they get their coffee to the clothes they wear. This trend shows no sign of slowing."
"I have always thought that in the future we would be doing mass customization — the question has always been when."

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13 Comments on "Ralph Lauren to bring on-demand color to its flagship stores"


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Liza Amlani
BrainTrust

The use of tech and enabling customization and sustainability has already been a winner for Ralph Lauren – personalization of The Polo has been integrated into the RL offering for years and the opportunity in this space is endless. Ralph Lauren is on the right track to further engage their loyal customers in the innovation journey through customization while aligning with their values on sustainability.

Personalized apparel is increasingly significant across fashion as it gives the customer a cutting edge, setting them apart from the masses. There is pride in wearing a garment or footwear that was made especially for you and this trend is not going anywhere as the process becomes more accessible and affordable.

David Naumann
BrainTrust

Great points Liza. As consumers continue to desire and expect more personalized experiences and products, Ralph Lauren’s custom color polo shirts should be a success. While some customers won’t be patient to wait an hour for their custom shirt, others may be fine to continue shopping in the store while their shirt is dyed, resulting in incremental revenues for Ralph Lauren.

Liza Amlani
BrainTrust

Working on and off for Ralph Lauren for the last 22 years, I can tell you that the excitement around the personalization bar in the flagship stores was incredible.

The fact that RL is rolling out a product customization tool that is also sustainable is critical, especially as the industry works on reducing their carbon footprint. Accessibility and speed are also key and I am very excited to see how this plays out!

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

I like this move as it adds some theater and also allows consumers to customize their products, which is becoming more important. We have a (relatively) new Levi’s store in our local mall that has a station which sews monograms, logos and patches onto products, as well as doing alterations. It makes the purchase experience more engaging and personal. In a wider sense, I think mass-customization will become more common over the years ahead as technology will allow this to be done in a cost-effective way and it is a good method of adding value and minimizing waste.

Melissa Minkow
BrainTrust

This technology will be a winning ticket for Ralph Lauren. This is a way for the heritage brand to stay current and get a leg up on fast fashion by capitalizing on the quick-turn trendiness of the industry without all the environmental damage. Innovations along these lines will be key to also managing demand forecasting better – if inventory can evolve in real time to meet consumer needs, supply and demand will be much more aligned. Very cool and exciting.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

I have always thought that in the future we would be doing mass customization — the question has always been when. I definitely see a future in it, and Ministry of Supply is certainly leading the way, but even 90 minutes is too long to wait in-store. One client I worked with produced jewelry on-demand leveraging 3-D printing but it was never rolled out. I do see a future but the big questions are when and for how much.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

It is a great idea. Customization in apparel is the future and, as the technology evolves, we will see more and more of it. In 10 or so years, perhaps most apparel will be customized.

This is appealing to the customer. Imagine each person having their own style or logo. It also solves numerous problems retailers have always faced with balancing inventory. Just take color out of the equation and consider the cut in inventory the retailer has to carry.

One question comes to my mind. Will I be able to delete the silly polo rider?

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

Ralph Lauren was a pioneer in teaching the customer how to express themselves through color. It’s totally fitting that Ralph Lauren now takes this opportunity for the customer to express color in a sustainable and personalized manner. It’s a great lesson in the evolution of physical retail. It could be done online, but what a hoot to be able to do it in person.

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

Ralph Lauren is moving towards differentiation that matches Nike’s drive to customization and personalizing the product lines for customers. For Ralph Lauren it will tap into customers who definitely want their own version of clothing. Custom clothing is a growing market with ~5 percent CAGR and similar markets like t-shirt printing have been growing at similar rates. Ironically, the strongest markets are luxury retail with companies like Prada and Gucci offering tailored versions of highly personalized clothing. This is a good move for Ralph Lauren and will open up new avenues. Per eMarketer, almost 29 percent of customers are looking for some level of personalization in their products. Expect the space for color and bespoke clothing to continue growing.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

Customers today want customization of everything from the way they get their coffee to the clothes they wear. This trend shows no sign of slowing. I would expect it to continue grow as the ability to customize becomes easier, faster and less expensive.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

Ralph Lauren’s on-demand business model not only drives the personalization and choice that customers are seeking, but it is also leveraging technological innovations for very positive reasons, especially around sustainability initiatives. Customization and personalization are two of the more prominent customer-first winning strategies, and the Ralph Lauren team is taking this made-to-order model at the perfect time.

Sustainability has quickly become one of the more critical initiatives for all industries, and particularly retail, to address. However, the biggest challenge has been around the execution piece to resonate with the modern, digital-first, and informed consumer. This is a perfect example of leveraging innovative technologies, driving personalized customer experiences while addressing sustainability concerns.

Andrew Blatherwick
BrainTrust

The innovation is not only good for the planet in terms of the dyeing process, it would also make the supply chain significantly more efficient and the planning and allocation process much easier. Imagine a world where you just buy and ship plain white apparel to your DCs and stores and the color is handled locally. It would take out one complete element of the planning process reducing it to just style and size. Yes, there would be the shipping of the colors to consider but that should not be a major issue.

If this were truly possible, then it could make a significant difference to many apparel retailers. Not to mention the fun of being able to mix and choose your own color!

Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

Customizing can only continue to grow RL’s appeal to more customers and keep their offering up to date with their customer’s needs and wants. It also keeps their customers engaged with their products, while furthering customer loyalty.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"I like this move as it adds some theater and also allows consumers to customize their products, which is becoming more important. "
"Customers today want customization of everything from the way they get their coffee to the clothes they wear. This trend shows no sign of slowing."
"I have always thought that in the future we would be doing mass customization — the question has always been when."

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