Learning by Doing
Bas Possen is a mass customization veteran. He has been designing and selling made-to-order business suits and shirts for men and women since 1969 through his company, Possen Made-to-Fit Fashion.
After growing up in the fashion industry with a background in custom-tailoring, Bas Possen wanted to take advantage of the latest technology. "In 1998, we started with body scanners from Human Solutions. We were the world-first fashion retailer with a 3D body scanner in Amsterdam as well as in a mobile store visiting clients. We were the world's first, but not the world's best. For example, during the first year of operation, we scanned 10,000 people, but we had to give money back to 30 percent of them. We realized that we were tapping an unmet need, but the scanning software was immature and the logistical control wasn't there."
Bas also experimented with online design and ordering of custom tailored apparel. "We wanted to be an Internet player, but we found we needed to be brick and click. We had no clue about the proper distribution model."
CustoMax provides a total mass customization ecosystem for apparel retailers
Retailers use the configuration software to capture customers' measurements and apparel specifications. Custom manufacturing is outsourced.
Turn the Learnings from Made-to-Fit Apparel into a Scalable Ecosystem for Mass Customization
At the same time that he has been continuously improving and growing his Possen Made-to-Fit apparel business, Bas has also been designing and perfecting a platform and an ecosystem to support the players—specialty retailers, ateliers and weavers—in the fashion industry. His CustoMax® Solution is currently used by about 100 European fashion retailers; many of these are small family businesses with 1 to 30 stores. "CustoMax" connects multiple best-of-class retailers of mass-customization products with their manufacturers and their suppliers on one single platform and integrates their product catalogs in a uniform way."
CustoMax is currently used for the custom-design and manufacture of suits, shirts, dresses, knits, and, most recently, shoes, for men and women.
Customers and Retailers select Fabrics from samples in the store
The Customer Experience
Clients go to the retail stores to be measured (manually or with a body scanner)—the first session takes up to 45 minutes—and to select from a wide assortment of fabrics and styles. Together with the retail consultant or tailor, they co-design the look they want for their suit and/or shirts. Starting with a basic style (these change often, of course, to keep up with fashion), they can select all the options they prefer in cuffs, pockets, lapels, linings, and so on.
The retailer provides accessories, ties, socks, stockings, cufflinks, etc. that are complimentary (some of these are supplied by CustoMax). "A customer goes to a fashion retailer because he likes the feeling. He wants to be able to ask, ‘What do you think? Does it make me look good?' We're really talking about transformation; not shopping. A fashion retailer intrinsically works at this level."
The customized garments are then made-to-order by a CustomMax manufacturer and delivered direct to the client (or picked up at the store) within 5 to 15 days (depending on the product/manufacturer). The prices are competitive with other top-of-the-line off-the-rack business apparel. Since the clients' dimensions and preferences are now stored electronically, re-ordering is easy, as is the ability to specify simple changes in colors and styles. Clients can view and re-order from their digital closets.
The Retailers' Experience
Each of the retailers commits to having two trained specialists in each store and to using the CustoMax configuration software which is provided to them free of charge. Bas's group provides the training and the coaching in how to market the service and how to maintain great client relations. "We consult them in their shops on how to incorporate their made-to-order corner in their shops. We deal with every size retailer, from a single tailor to a Brooks Brothers or Harrods. We really focus on retailers—from very small to very big. We show them how to do this successfully. We contact each of our clients weekly, and visit them monthly. We set targets with them. They need a 24x7 support (including weekends)," Bas explained.
CustoMax Retailers Co-Design Apparel Options with Customers in the Store
There are many details from which customers can choose with the help of the retailer's fashion advisor.
The Weavers' Experience
The fabric suppliers—weavers and designers—are also typically small businesses, many of them scattered throughout Europe. Bas Possen described the logistical and emotional challenges: "The fashion industry is highly fragmented and highly competitive. There are, for example, Italian family-owned fabric suppliers in the same town that have been shooting each other for centuries. We need to convince both families to let us connect to them. A retailer needs to know real-time (i.e., while consulting his client) that he can have the last 3 meters of this fabric available and to be able to book it. Then it has to get to Hamburg, Boston, Stockholm, or Amsterdam in time." The fabric suppliers commit to keeping their fabric inventory up-to-date in real time as well as to providing just-in-time supply to the participating manufacturers. The textile suppliers and manufacturers pay a minimum fee for installing the software and integration with their existing ERP system on a one-time project set-up basis. All upgrades are free. A small transaction fee is charged to the fabric suppliers and manufacturers per order that is created on the CustoMax portal by a retailer or consumer.
The Manufacturers' Experience
The manufacturing ateliers are typically small European lean manufacturing and/or tailoring operations, most of which are staffed by craftspeople who have been producing custom garments for decades. The difference that the CustoMax software brings to them are the digitized patterns and dimensions—each style is pre-designed with a set of easy-to-assemble options.
CustoMax works with each Retailer to design a section of their store for customer co-design
Results: Great Fit, Great Clothes
The results are quite stunning. Not only do clients get clothes delivered fast at competitive prices that fit beautifully, made out of superb fabrics, but clients also typically experiment with often surprising combinations—men's suit jackets with colorful linings, women's three-piece suits with contrasting silk vests and blouses.
Results: Increased Revenues and Profits for Retailers
For most of CustoMax retail customers, mass-customization is now at least 10 percent of their business and growing. Bas offers an example of the typical retailer's experience with CustoMax. "One of my customers is a husband and wife team who run their own fashion retail store. They bring in about 1 million Euros revenues per year. They were able to custom design and deliver about 30 to 40 suits per year, for a few clients. We looked at their store, we told them to switch suppliers, we'll help you with your in-store presentation, and we'll show you how to promote the capability. In their first event, they had 80 people making appointments on one weekend. They generated 100,000 Euros in additional revenue in a single weekend!"
This is excerpted from my "Smart Customization Comes of Age" Best Practices report, January 8, 2009.