Mass customization – the new tailor of the neighbourhood

How brands are getting back to personalization and production on demand.

Written by Alice Beyer Schuch for Slow Fashion Next (Spanish). Cover picture: Pixabay – Oct/2017

Many of us know about family stories that talk about how our ancestors made, cared for and changed their own clothes. At that time, more than an invitation to individuality, personalization took place for economic reasons and was usually done at home or, in more specific cases, with the neighbourhood tailor.

For 20-30 years, we witnessed a bum of business models that grew exponentially, based on the sale of more and more units per year, in a vicious cycle of natural and social exploitation*. Having something new, hand in hand with the latest trend, has become much simpler and more economical (financially and in time). That “democratization of fashion” has led us almost unconsciously to a mass standardization – and with that, our domestic sewing machines and the tailor of the neighbourhood retired.

Fortunately, we see a positive cultural change in our relationship with the quantity, price and quality of fashion. Concepts of Slow Fashion, and practices like DIY, which propose a reduction of irrational consumption and the change towards more lasting and personalized attitudes, receive more and more followers. And terms like makers and prosumers become more and more common. The emotional connection with our garments has reappeared, now in the form of a sustainable strategy**.


Jake and Maya Kids
Jake & Maya Kids’ repair kit


In the book Fashion Fibers: Designing for Sustainability, Annie Gullingsrud mentions that ‘an increasing number of designers are looking at user-cantered aspects of their sustainable design processes. Developing products to be easily altered by the user, or by building garments that fit different types of bodies and thus allowing sharing […] are just some emerging strategies. Thus, new business models now arise by offering products where the consumer is no longer the one who only buys, but become an active participant in decisions about what she wants to wear.

The Jake and Maya Kids brand offers children’s clothing that grows with them – using sustainable fabrics and low-waste patterns, in multifunctional, reversible and gender-free products (which makes it easy to share). In addition, garments can be customized and altered in a fun way – with extension packages or repair kits – with a proposal to teach children the importance of sustainability.


Picture This
Picture This’ on demand dresses


Customization is also the strategy of brands like Picture This. They offer printed products made on demand, where the user is the one who decides how she wants her garment and makes it possible and incontestably more personal (through technological development). As well as Unmade tricot brand, where the customer is, in fact, the designer of their own sweater. Or even closer, such as Kniterate‘s proposal – making it possible to manufacture professional and personalized knit at the click of a button, through a small digital machine, bringing the production of garments back to the neighbourhood (and still exchange experiences and patterns with the online community).


Kniterate’s machine


Brands connect with the idea of personalization and production on demand (as the old tailor did) but now using interactive technologies that further empower the consumer. And it is a mistake to think this is something for small brands. The Adidas SpeedFactory is a robotic factory with innovative 3D technology that brings production back to the neighbourhood, taking the process closer to consumers. And more than technologically producing locally, the brand also wants to take advantage of these spaces to create items adapted to the exact specifications of consumers, offering sports shoes made on demand and tailored.

As André Carvalhal says in his book Moda con Propósito (Fashion with Purpose), ‘mass customization will avoid the waste of the current system and support the being, contributing to new business models that are going to break with existing ones and in which the customer will participate in the active creative process as more of a kind of empowerment ‘. These examples of businesses supported by demand-driven production not only increase the customer’s emotional connection with what she purchases, they also significantly reduce the environmental impact – once only what is sold is produced, and the “new factories” in the vicinity, reduces time and investment in transportation and warehouse. Visibly positive effects throughout the process.

Mass customization and production on demand are already part of the DNA of many brands and projects. My desire here is that more and more fashion businesses, be they big or small, implement these concepts in their short, medium and long-term decisions seeking to establish the user’s emotional connection with fashion, to regain her empowerment in saying what is important, and thus help to curb the unsustainable course that we have drawn in today’s fashion.

*From Fashion Revolution White Paper, 2015.

**More examples at Fashion at the Crossroads from Greenpeace, 2017.


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