The Mass Customization Reality
“Imagine a world where you want a red cashmere sweater that is a certain fit, style and length,” said Devin Wenig, eBay’s chief executive at the World Economic Forum, in January 2016. “This is immediately manufactured and on your doorstep in five days. That reality is closer than many believe”.
We routinely custom-build things according to our individual tastes, be it our coffee to our music playlists. We choose the fabric and color of our car, and even build our own computers from scratch. It seems fitting that we would want to have the same level of customization for what we wear.
Companies have already entered the customization realm. For example, Shoes of Prey allows women to customize a shoe’s shape, color and height online and receive their custom-made design anywhere in the world within five weeks. Adidas even lets customers personalize shoes, leggings, and other apparel by choosing colors and design.
Using the Shoes of Prey 3D DESIGNER customers choose the shape, colour and height of their shoes. Designs are handmade within four weeks and delivered worldwide.
For customers, getting products configured to their needs and tastes is ideal, but what about for the company? Is apparel mass customization a good thing? How much will it cost to implement? Even if demand exists, are people willing to pay a premium for these services?
The customization spectrum consists of a few different elements:
- Mix & Match
- Configure piece colors
- Add & modify content
- Full pattern customization
This can be broken down further into the design and production cycles:
- E-Commerce & Web Front End: The initial online sale with consumers to choose colors, material, style, or even add logos to a garment.
- On-Demand Manufacturing: Consumers can pay for products before they are put into production to eliminate the risk of excess inventory – an advantage where consumer demand is hard to predict. Furthermore, creating factories closer to the consumer can also save in production and shipping costs.
- Customized Design: The need for an integrated platform with a customized garment ‘briefcase’ of 2D & 3D files and artwork, to allow easier digital design options assigned to order.
- Nesting, printing, sewing & fulfillment: Enabling digital technologies such as digital printing, single ply cutting, 3D CAD systems, CNC (computer Numerical Control) enabled sewing machines, and POS data. Yet, there are still challenges associated with the technologies. These include improvements in technology to achieve quicker and better “concept to consumer” products.
For mass customization to truly succeed, there is a big need for restructuring the supply chain to create low unit costs of mass production processes with the flexibility to customize individually. Manufacturers may need to shift their “plan and push” product chain mentality to be a more demand-driven and “sense and respond” value chain mentality. Also, the costs of mass customization can be high. For example, single ply cutting can be highly expensive to cut individual garments per customer’s preference.
While there is room to grow in terms of immersive shopping, digital fitting rooms, and body scanning, it is definitely a space that brands and retailers are starting to head into. Consumers want to enjoy an experience, not just buy a product, and mass customization is the path to create seamless, customized and personal shopping experience.
The mass customization hype isn’t new, but it’s becoming more of a reality every day.