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Mass Customization

Paths to Earning Business of Millenials

Like forest paths intersecting in a clearing, three seemingly disparate articles on our reading list today led to the same place.  

The subjects: 3D technology spurring mass customization, Patagonia’s new apparel line made from recycled garments and salvaged fabric swatches, and an expansive study of the age 25-to-34 crowd (aka millennials).

Far into the first article, posted on the blog of French software company Dassault Systèmes, noted mass customization expert B. Joseph Pine is quoted. He cites apparel as an example of an industry coming around to the benefits of mass customization, which enables consumers to personalize products before they’re made.

Mass Customization and the Model T Cliché

Overuse of a phrase or expression demotes it linguistically to cliché status. Sometimes the once descriptively powerful devolves into triteness. Familiarity breeds contempt, itself a cliché, captures the effect.

Such is the fate of a popular comparison: mass customization of personalized products vs mass production of the all-black Ford Model T. Search the terms together to see how often it’s been used. Even some Twitter users poked fun at the rampant use earlier this year.

Damage by Design to Make It Mine

Among our favorite topics is mass customization, the growing trend of shoppers personalizing products online before purchase and before they’re manufactured. Admittedly we have a self-interest in the trend, evident in our gBuilder demo.

A distant cousin to mass customization recently caught our eye. It’s too amorphous to warrant trend status. We’ve named it post-purchase offline customization, or PPOC, a term absent from Google until we post this blog item.

Is Retail Facing Tectonic Upheaval?

“I am not a number, I am a free man.”

That defiant declaration was enshrined in pop culture in the late 1960s, courtesy of the British cult TV series The Prisoner and its main character, Number Six, played by Patrick McGoohan. The show was remade as a miniseries that aired in 2009.

The show came to mind while reading one of 2013’s most provocative predictions about the retail industry from futurist and consultant Doug Stephens, who uses the moniker Retail Prophet. (The most provocative of the year, hands down, was tech investor Marc Andreesen’s claim that physical retail stores are destined for death. We’re not sure we can side with him but love the debate.) 

Massive Shift to Mass Customization

Is mass customization of products finally on track to become the norm?

Academics and consultants have prognosticated this post-Industrial Revolution, end-of-mass-production era for two decades. They foresaw consumers routinely customizing goods online to meet personal tastes before the products are made.

No overnight sea change happened, however. Instead, companies—from the mammoth to the upstart—have slowly embraced or at least experimented with the approach, especially in recent years. Often this is how revolutions happen. Quietly, momentum builds until the revolutionary becomes the mainstream.

Interactive Customization Goes Brick and Mortar

Stroll into Foot Locker’s store in New York’s Times Square and you can’t miss the bright red kiosk. Built around large interactive video screens, the kiosk invites shoppers to customize and then buy an iconic running shoe, the New Balance 574, before their personalized design is manufactured.

Via the touch screens, a potential buyer can choose from myriad color choices for various shoe components, different materials, and add text such as a name. A design can be zoomed in for an up-close inspection and turned 360 degrees before ordering. The kiosk includes physical samples of the shoes’ various parts, from thread and laces to leather and mesh swatches.

U.S Patent for 3D Digital Garment Process

From PRWebEmbodee Corp. Awarded Patent for Creating and Modeling 3D Digital Garments

Dynamic image rendering process lowers costs for brands and facilitates digital merchandising and mass customization.

Portland, Ore., June 11, 2013 -- Embodee Corp. has been awarded a U.S. government patent for its unique process of creating and modeling 3D digital garments. Large apparel brands that use the process improve how they merchandise and sell products online.

For the first time, the process makes possible production of an unlimited volume of dynamically rendered garment images at lower incremental costs than conventional photography. Brands can display virtual samples for merchandising to wholesalers and retailers, and finished garments for e-commerce sales.

Mass Customization by the Numbers

Calculator in hand, we dug through a 349-page report about companies that enable shoppers to customize products online. Among the unearthed statistical nuggets: 160 of the 900 firms in the “Configurator Database Report 2013” sell apparel. At 18%, that’s far and away the largest of 16 industry categories of products in the international database, a treasure trove of information about the mass customization movement in manufacturing. cyLEDGE, a new media, technology and strategy consultancy in Vienna, Austria, developed and maintains the database.

PUMA'S Davis: Allure of Mass Customization

Embodee recently spent time with Thomas Davis, global head of e-commerce for PUMA, to discuss changes and challenges in the apparel industry. Here, in the second of two installments, are excerpts of our conversation.

Embodee: How does mass customization fit in from your perspective?

Davis: When you start thinking about a diversified product strategy in terms of more SKUs, more colors, and more options, you start running into liability. Meaning, you have to front load cash flow to pay for inventory/product that might sit on shelves for weeks if not months before it’s purchased and your return on the investments is recouped. It’s the long-tail game. When you’re trying to keep your margins high and your turn ratios high, it’s a very difficult one to balance. Creating lots of inventory that sits on shelves all over the world is just basically money sitting there that can’t be allocated toward other business-enhancing projects. The turnaround time on product is probably a year lead time for some companies. That’s a long time to tie up money, especially when there’s no guarantee in the world of fashion.

Mass Customizations and Expressions of 'Me'

Here at Embodee we’re not shy about evangelizing the benefits of mass customization and co-creation in the manufacture and sale of products, especially apparel. Yes, our fervor is self-serving: Embodee’s best-of-breed 3D visualization technology enhances the process. But we’re also naturally curious about the many dynamics of this post-Industrial Age shift in the way things are bought then made (not made then bought, as in the era of mass production). Our latest obsession is touchy-feely. It’s the emotional side of purchasing something you design to meet your individual functional needs and aesthetic desires.

Customizing the Customization Lexicon

When something significant disrupts the status quo, a specialized lexicon inevitably emerges and grows. Look no further than the thousands of Internet- and computer-related words, phrases, and acronyms that didn’t exist two decades ago. Now there are enough to fill the 528 pages of NetLingo: The Internet Dictionary.

The more recent and ongoing shift to customization in manufacturing has also spawned specialized words and terms. Some define variations and subsets of customization: mass customization, co-creation, crowdsourcing, open innovation, virtual personalization, personalized production, DYO—design your own, and so on.

Completely One with Mass Customization

Let’s say you’re ambitious and want to start a business or grow an existing global company that makes things. And let’s say you aren’t fully versed in the changing dynamics in the world of design and manufacturing. And why consumers increasingly expect the ability to customize products as a prerequisite for purchase. What sage advice do you need?Whether you’re an entrepreneur or senior manager, start with reading Custom Nation: Why Customization Is the Future of Business and How to Profit From It. The book is a primer on what one of the CEOs interviewed calls the new Industrial Revolution and “the single strongest driving force in how to please your customers today.”