Fashion's Future: Making it personal.....

In these heady days of fast fashion, global online shopping and high-speed delivery services, how can fashion brands stand out from each other and engage more with their customers? One device that is catching on with luxury brands is customization or personalization and it’s starting to trickle down to the high street. The model is simple - the customer can customize a product with their choice of materials and colours - either partially or completely bespoke, or to personalize a set product with their initials.

British heritage brand, Burberry now provides a custom monogramming service for their iconic scarves, accessories, trench coats and perfume. Their rucksacks can be customized with ‘attractive gold letters sourced from an 18th Century embroidery specialist.’  Other brands that offer custom monogramming services are Ralph Lauren and Tiffany & Co. By monogramming products, these brands are adding value and desirability to their iconic items for their customer and giving the customer ‘ownership’ of the item.

Jewellery brand, Pandora, has created a lucrative partial customization product - its charm bracelet range. These are simple silver bracelets with additional individually bought charms. An old fashioned idea reinvented for the modern age and lapped up by their loyal fans. Customers become collectors and each owner’s bracelet is unique and personal. Charms represent personal memories and personal events, birthdays, children, love tokens, friendship etc. The possibilities are seemingly endless.

Customization is happening in the Sportswear arena too. Nike offer NikeiD – a website resource where you can design your own trainers. Nike suggests you can “Stay motivated through every workout with custom graphics, outsole options and inspirational icons.”  In the London Nike Store, excited customers queue up to use the in-store computers which allow you to create and order your custom made shoes, which will be delivered within 3-5 weeks, with email alerts along the way to update you on their progress.

This partial personalization model has been adopted by other top brands such as Prada, Louis Vuitton, and Fendi. And is being picked up by high street brands such as Gap and Whistles.

Australian businesswoman, Lana Hopkins set up a customizable handbag brand in 2014. Using 3D technology, Mon Purse allows consumers to design their own bag, choosing from a range of colours, leathers, lining and metal accessories. Hopkins cites Build-A-Bear, a toy shop where children are able to build their own teddy bear, as her inspiration. In an interview in The Guardian, Hopkins says “I spent a good hour building a bear for my nephew. It was kind of like a come-to-Jesus moment – if I could get that excited designing a bear, imagine how my girlfriends would feel if they could design the perfect handbag?”

After success in Australia, Hopkins did a deal with Selfridges to be stocked in London and Manchester and her brand has grown 800% in the last year.

Some designer and luxury brands are able to offer bespoke product or complete customization - designed by the customer, but often with a hefty price tag. You can design your own luxury items with Ray-Ban, Dior, Longchamp, Coccinelle and Jimmy Choo.

So where will this lead us? Looking to the future, 3D technology will enable new manufacturing opportunities for brands and individuals. Speaking at The New York Times Global Leaders’ Collective conference held in Washington in November last year, Ray Kurzweil, a director of engineering and developing machine intelligence at Google, said that 3-D printing may radically change our relationship to shopping and our clothes a lot sooner than we think. He said that although progress has been made recently with the 3-D production of non-pliable product, namely sports shoes and sunglasses, the printing of fabric-based items remained difficult because of the synthetic quality of the raw materials that current 3D printers use. He predicts that this will change over the next 10 years.

“As the variety of materials available to print in 3-D become more extensive and less expensive, both free open-source and proprietary clothing designs will be widely available online in as little as 10 years… By 2020, there will be a whole host of product available immediately to buy for pennies on the dollar and to print straight away. It will become the norm for people to have printers in their homes.” Mr. Kurzweil said that in future, fashion brands will need to accept having less control of design and manufacturing as technology changes the industry. In other words, when customization and even manufacturing become DIY, the fashion industry will have to come up with new concepts to engage with their customers and boost sales.