At TechCrunch Disrupt Beijing, finalist United Styles launched a new “user generated fashion” crowd-sourcing website. The business model focuses on letting users design their own clothing, open their own stores, and sell their own designs online. The goal is to democratize the design industry, effectively taking the power away from Madison Avenue and letting users “pull” their own fashion instead of it being “pushed” to them via conventional, predictive mass production business models that depend on the voodoo science of demand forecasting.
After the presentation, United Styles was asked by the panel of judges “who is your target user?” Their answer was the “the fashion blogosphere.” Huh?
This is an important question for all companies offering custom products. Who ARE mass customization customers? Power shoppers? Fashionistas? Tweens? The oddly shaped? Designers? Hipsters individualists? Luxury buyers? Novelty gift buyers?
In his blog, VC Fred Wilson identifies one of the cardinal rules of social media: “Out of 100 people, 1% will create the content, 10% will curate the content, and the other 90% will simply consume it.” This customer segmentation framework applies to co-creation marketplaces as well.
Bespokable, for example, provides a platform for a network of tailors to design shirts based on users specifications. Users themselves don’t touch the visual product configurator. Instead, customers describe their requirements via a web form. The tailors review the requirements and self-reported body measurements, and then design a custom shirt via the online design tool.
Lookk and Fabricly also target “real designers.” Up and coming designers are attracted to these new web platforms because they offer the chance to showcase their collection as an independent designer. Instead of designing garments within a web browser, these designers use more conventional offline design tools like hand sketching on paper and Adobe Illustrator. They then upload their designs and even photographs.
These are the 1% – the power users that create the content. Experts only.
Threadless and United Styles target the amateur quasi-designer. The micro-entrepreneur. The casual designer engages with browser based design tools and uploads their design to a virtual store. No special design skills or tools are required. This is true fashion co-creation: come to a website site and start designing and selling garments. The real opportunity here is to encourage an untapped market of untrained designers to start designing, creating a large pool of virtual inventory.
A built-in fashion police feature
The key to success in the co-creation market is balancing user creativity with content curation. The quasi-designer is a curator of controlled content. Like a Polyvore user who creates sets, the core fashion is defined and controlled within the constraints of the design tool.
These are the 10% that are curating the content. Anyone may apply.
What’s important to realize is that these new services open up a larger market of creators / curators by making it increasingly easier to access creation and curation tools.
According the cardinal rule, the real opportunity is in serving the 90% of the market, ie the consumers of the (created and curated) content. It is the mass-market appeal that fuels the business model. The designers and the quasi-designers create content for a large audience of casual shoppers to purchase.
Who does mass customization serve? Like social networks, the co-creation network serves a mix of audiences; the creator, the curator, and the consumer.