Mass customization = the future of retail

Uncategorized Posted Feb 22, 2011 by metropolis

Mass customization is revolutionizing both the manufacturing and service industries as more and more products and capabilities are becoming accessible to the public.

Imagine that you are an eight year-old girl with hopes of becoming a fashion designer someday. Not long ago that may have been a pipe dream, but today that wishful thinking can become a reality. Sarah McIlroy is the founder and CEO of FashionPlaytes, an online clothing design studio that allows girls to actually order and wear the clothing they create. McIlroy is one of a handful of innovators in the “hidden” tech cluster of mass customization that was featured last Wednesday, February 16, 2011 at MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge’s innovation series event.

“Customizing is about the experience just as much as it is about the product,” said McIlroy. “It’s a process; you start from scratch and end with a finished product.”

In a panel discussion moderated by Katie Rae, the founder of Project11 and the director of TechStars Boston, McIlroy, Ted Acworth of Artaic, Michael Salguero of CustomMade.com, and Sung Park of Umagination Labs spoke about and demonstrated their niches in the growing space of mass customization. Other mass customization start-ups also showed off their work, including custom made brassieres, oxford shirts and eco-friendly bags.

“Why do you drive the car you drive or wear the clothes you wear?” said Park. “Because you like the way you feel in it. Same goes for mass customization—you designed it, you like it.”

Two of the value propositions of mass customization are design and utility. The company Blank Label allows consumers to co-create their own dress shirt—the split between those that like the idea because they can order hard-to-find sizes and those that like to release their inner creative genius on their clothing is almost fifty percent.

Scaling business and supply chain are two of the greatest challenges those in the industry face, as well as knowing how much customization is the elusive “right” amount. However, these hiccups are not slowing down the success and interest in mass customization. Zyrra, a company that makes custom-fitted bras, plans to sell 10,000 bras in 2011 and to multiply that number by ten for 2012, according to their founder.

Through the Internet and automated manufacturing systems that fuel the growth of businesses capable of identifying specific needs of individual consumers that had not been previously met, and also creating products that meet those requirements (often with a bit of pizzazz), it is clear that mass customization is a trend that is here to stay.