Customization is becoming a basic expectation for many consumers, as outlined in L2’s new Insight report Sportswear: Product Customization. In the habit of personalizing everything from coffee (Starbucks enables around 80,000 drink combinations) to digital playlists, shoppers are looking to put their own stamp on mass-market goods and services. While a handful of established brands across categories do some form of customization, Sportswear and Fashion have the highest levels of implementation. The majority of these offerings work within the confines of limited product options, with marketing as their underlying objective. Brands within the Sportswear category, however, are putting more resources behind customization in a bid to develop new sources of revenue and profit.
A third of Index Sportswear brands offer customization services, and these continue to grow in scale and sophistication. NIKEiD, which launched in the early 2000s, is the gold standard when it comes to product customization. Nike-owned brands Converse and Hurley also offer customization tools with numerous options and features. As brands across Sportswear adopt advanced customization tools, companies will likely add more SKUs to the mix and speed up product delivery. Adidas recently announced plans to “dramatically” expand product customization options and to test automated production units that would enable manufacturing closer to customers.
Established apparel brands are facing competition from new businesses that come at customization with a clean slate, changing the economics behind producing custom clothing. Menswear in particular is a well-populated space, with a crop of mostly online retailers making affordable customization their core proposition. VC-backed J. Hilburn, which launched in 2007, was shipping almost 500 men’s shirts a day and estimating close to $55 million in 2014 sales as of last November, and forecasting profitability in 2015. Rivals including three-year-old Trumaker and eight-year-old Indochino (pictured) have received significant sums from venture capital in the past few years.
New technologies and manufacturing in closer proximity to the customer will be key to wider adoption of customization. Retailers including Alton Lane and Left Shoe Company have made 3D scanning central to their offering of custom-fit menswear and men’s shoes, respectively. A few established retailers are following suit. Brooks Brothers’ flagship Madison Avenue store offers a Digital Tailor that takes a 3D image of the consumer in 12 seconds. Hundreds of measurements are then transmitted to a factory in Massachusetts for creation of a personalized pattern.
3D printing also has the potential to change the game in customization. Feetz, which recently collected $1.25 million in seed funding, intends to produce Crocs-like 3D-printed shoes; customer measurements will be gleaned from photos taken with the Feetz app. Here too, established brands are starting to test the waters. British retail giant Argos has launched a microsite selling 3D-printed jewelry, and is reportedly considering a test of customized homeware and lighting. On Argos’ jewelry site, shoppers choose the metal, texture or personalized wording, depending on the piece. For one pair of earrings, users can morph the design using two sliders—a nifty feature that points to the potential of 3D printing for consumer-driven creative input.