Innovation & Technology
Consumers are looking for more ways to express their individuality. Enter customised fashion.
With the easy availability of mass produced, ready-to-wear fashion, consumers are used to being able to achieve the latest look without spending too much money. But in an era where younger shoppers are looking to stand out from the crowd, many are looking to build a wardrobe that is tailored to their personalities.
New technologies is now able to deliver such customised fashion to consumers; allowing them to dictate exactly how they want their clothes to look. While it’s not exactly a new idea, earlier iterations were rather niche and limited to certain products. In 1999, Nike introduced NikeiD, a digital customisation platform that lets customers personalise their sneakers using different colours and material. Some luxury brands also offer customisation options, for example, monogrammed Hermes and Burberry scarves.
However, customised fashion today is gearing up to enter the mass market. In an article on GE.com on the five trends shaping the future of fashion manufacturing, Suuchi Ramesh, Indian-born CEO of US-based rapid-turn apparel design and manufacturing company, Suuchi, Inc, predicts the rise of customised fashion. "We are approaching a time when customers can get what they want, when they want it," she wrote.
After all, that’s the premise of her company. She started Suuchi, Inc in 2015 to create custom garments quickly and cost-efficiently after getting frustrated with the difficulty of finding outfits to fit her petite frame. There are several other online-based retailers also offering custom-made clothes, such as Apliiq and e-Shakti. In a time where we customise everything from our music playlists to our Facebook feeds, personalised clothing will only get more popular.
Barriers to Entry
Time is a factor when it comes to mass customisation. While consumers covet personalised pieces, they are not willing to wait too long for it. Footwear customers are willing to wait up to four weeks for delivery while interest in customised men’s shirts decline after a two-week waiting time, according to Elizabeth Spaulding, head of Bain & Company’s Digital Transformation Group, in an article on businessoffashion.com
Cost, both to the consumer and the producer, is another barrier. One-item-fits-many clothes can be created and sold cheaply because they are produced on a mass scale, leveraging economies of scale. Customised clothes tend to come at a premium.
Making Mass Customisation a Reality
Technology is key to making mass customisation a reality. Ramesh’s New Jersey-based business currently uses 100 different machines to automate 40 percent of the production process. Time-consuming tasks like sewing buttonholes now take 40 percent less time.
In an interview with CNNMoney, Ramesh, who has an MBA and a degree in computer science and who began her career as an analyst in Intel, said, “We have to use technology to make the process and people smarter – it’s where manufacturing is headed.”
She’s looking to use programmable robots to further automate these processes and to allow seamstresses to work smarter. Also in the works, a software she created to reduce design time process and to create a garment sample from a 3D concept within 48 hours.
One potential upside to fashion becoming more personalised is the reduction in waste. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 15.1 million tons of textile waste was generated in 2013, of which 12.8 million were discarded. While the price of fast fashion is low, the environmental cost is high. If more thought is given to our wardrobe, consumers might buy fewer throwaway pieces that eventually end up in a landfill.