In the 1970s, Italian luxury goods brand Bottega Veneta launched an ad campaign that declared their posh products were for “When your own initials are enough.” In other words, their desired demographic was not only secure in their favored brands and chosen style – but also their self-worth.
Fast forward a decade when the ‘80s craze for designer labels meant that people’s bodies were layered with minute billboards advertising their favorite designers. In the ‘90s, evolving technology and internet access meant mass customization in the form of immediate and accessible custom made products from shoes to shirts, though quality wasn’t always part of the equation.
In our own times, label-mania has gone mainstream with ubiquitous logos for brands like Chanel, Prada and Versace vying for supremacy with somewhat more modestly priced offerings from Coach and Juicy Couture.
While Calvin Klein jeans no longer reign supreme, red soled stilettos still declare to the world that you’re sporting authentic Christian Louboutin shoes. Virgin Airlines recently blurred the lines of custom commerce by partnering with bareMinerals cosmetics to create a bespoke shade of lipstick. “Upper Class Red,” is available exclusively through the airline and meant to mimic Virgin Airline’s unique shade of red.
As we see countless copies of our own favored products, we can find ourselves longing for something distinctive and special- hence the rise of sites like Etsy.com which feature handmade, more craft driven products. “Mass-manufacturing, e-commerce and the abundance of retail chain stores have made similar products available everywhere,” says Stephen Fraser, one of the founders of SpoonFlower, a custom textile design website.
He continues, “What we choose to buy is a form of self-expression, one natural reaction to the sameness of the products available to us is to look for things that are individually created.” As Fraser puts it, the handmade economy allows people to make a statement not just about aesthetic preferences – but as a statement about their own values
Making it Personal
Cheaper labor, global access and online everything means that people have access to seemingly unlimited fashion and lifestyle options, making it both harder and easier to define their personal style. But there’s no need to limit your one-of-a-kind creation exclusively for special occasions.
The new breed of bespoke and highly customized clothing and accessory options makes it easier, if not more affordable, to make a one of a kind sartorial statement at nearly any price point.
On a basic level, you can go to sites like Zazzle.com and CafePress.com and create everything from customized t-shirts to mouse pads. Dig a little deeper and the options become more highly customized – and expensive.
If you’ve ever asked a waiter at a restaurant to serve your salad dressing on the side, you’ve already customized your dining experience. Now imagine if you could create custom chocolate confections that suit your tastes alone. The Queen Elizabeth hotel in Montreal offers a bespoke chocolate service where you can work with their master chocolatier to create your own flavor pairing. A nice option for tastemakers determined to make their mark.
Now think about your clothing. Small things like adding monogrammed initials to your bathrobe or even hemming or cuffing your favorite jeans can make your wardrobe less about the assembly line and more about you.
Now take it a step further. Even if you can’t afford to have a custom-made skirt, taking your new one to the tailor to have it tailored or taken in to fit you perfectly will make it a bit less cookie cutter than the rest.
Ready, Set, Customize!
Mass clothing production was once seen as innovative. Instead of spinning, cutting and sewing your own, you could buy something ready-made. Tatyana Kanzaveli, CEO of GetWear, believes mass produced clothing is more about the masses being brainwashed to wear clothing with a higher profit margin for the manufacturer and retailer.
Her own company offers the option of not only creating customized jeans, but also designing and selling them on at a profit. Kanzaveli’s mission? To change back the design and manufacturing process so that the consumer is in charge. “People are entitled to wear clothes they like to wear; clothing that fits well and not one size for all body types.”
Companies like eShakti offer a similar customized approach to women’s wear. A range of options in standard sizes as well as the option of ordering your favorite styles made to measure are available. As the owners say- if you are a hard to fit woman, for example bigger on top than the bottom or vice versa, here is your chance to wear a dress that fits as well on top as on the bottom… for the first time.
Did you ever wonder why a custom made suite can cost tens of thousands of dollars? Mohan Ramchandani of Mohan Tailors explains that custom-made suits fit better and are actually more comfortable. Before any item is made, men go through more than 20 measurements which include chest, arms, waist and leg and have a choice of 14,000 types of fabrics and accent colors, 60 different styles of monograms, 1,000 choices of buttons, and 20 collar and cuff options.
And just in case you think custom made suits are old-fashioned, Mohan recently introduced the “iPad Suit” which has a special pocket to stow your favorite tablet.
But it isn’t just clothing that comes with countless customization options. Blue Nile’s “Diamond Guy” expert Josh Holland says that customization is very important to their customers and accounts for nearly 100% of our engagement ring sales.
They also offer “over 90,000 independently certified diamonds of all shapes and sizes, and hundreds of settings from which to choose,” and if that’s not enough, they can send in a sketch of the ring they want and work with Blue Nile jewelers to further customize their creation all for 20-40% below traditional retail.
April Paffrath of Cambridge, Massachusetts is a fan of custom made clothing- specifically hats.
While some might see them as quirky items of clothing, Paffrath finds them to be worthwhile investments. “A lot of times you’re looking for something to fit your wardrobe- but it doesn’t quite exist. You can buy something that doesn’t fit your needs or you can buy multiple hats and spend even more money.” But it isn’t just the idea of saving money in the long run.
Paffrath likes the idea that because her bespoke hats are so well made, they’re in essence heirlooms in the making and can someday be passed down to her young daughter. “There’s a one of a kindness of it. Sure there’s vanity, but there’s also creative expression, which is worth something too.”
Best of all, Paffrath loves the idea that she’s buying something from an artisan who puts forth their effort and creativity. “I’m not just buying an item to be consumed. I’m entering a relationship with an artisan. I like valuing people’s creativity. I’ll spend a little bit more- and I’d like it in blue.”
Want to try your hand at designing something other than clothing or accessories? Ponoko allows you to create everything from electronics to home wear, or check out Shapeways, where you can craft customized jewelry, art and home décor.
Rachel Weingarten is a style expert, marketing strategist & personal branding consultant for CEOs, politicians and celebrities and the creator of MintStyle. She is the award-winning author of Career and Corporate Cool and Hello Gorgeous! Beauty Products in America ‘40s-‘60s. Rachel writes for top media outlets including CNN, Fortune, Forbes Life, MSN, USA Today, Yahoo Finance and many others. She is a regularly featured expert on TV shows including Good Morning America and The Today Show. Visit her online at http://racheletc.com or on Twitter @rachelcw