"At RYZ we’ve set out to create a people’s brand – a community of designers, sneakerheads and anyone that cares enough about art, fashion or sneakers to speak up. Together we’ll create sneakers that are designed and chosen, not by some big, faceless corporation, but by you.
Think of RYZ as a stage for designers to showcase their creativity and a forum for people to define what great sneaker design means. In other words, we just make comfortable sneakers – the rest is up to you."
This is how Rob Langstaff announced his new business just one month ago, ryzwear.com The hope of RYZ is to become the Threadless of footwear, connecting people who design custom sneakers with those that vote on the designs and purchase. I am wondering since long what could be good fields where the extremely profitable Threadless idea can be applied to, and footwear could be one option.
Rob Langstaff is not an outsider of the sneaker world. The former Adidas America Inc. president has turned the business model of its former employer upside down, Instead of assigning design jobs to inhouse designers, he is relying on online clusters of consumers to design products and figure out which ones to sell. "In Ryz's case, it's MySpace meets "American Idol," with footwear as the unit of expression", as an online report called the business model.
"The corporate design team is limited by its walls," Langstaff is quoted in the news report, "The corporation shouldn't be dictating what the consumer wears. The consumers should."
- Each month, Ryz will post a
different standardized shoe silhouette on its Web site (a high-top shoe and a
low-top shoe were the first two). Users can download the template and, using
Adobe Photoshop, illustrate or add images across the shoe.
- Site visitors can rate and
comment on submissions. After a month, a winner will be declared and Ryz will
order a run of the winning design -- 100 pairs to start and 1,000 pairs by next
year -- from a contract manufacturer in China.
- The winning designer will
get $1000 for the start, plus royalties of $1/piece on ongoing sales, and get their
profiles attached to each pair and a listing in Ryzwear.com's Hall of Fame.
- Two weeks after the contest ends, Ryz will sell the winning shoes on the Web and, for now, in Xebio Co., a leading Japanese sporting-goods retailer that owns a stake in Ryz. The retail price: $75 to $90 a pair.
By 2012, Langstaff hopes to allow users to design the entire shoe, from the shape of the sole to the shape of the eyestay. He also hopes to get into athletic wear. He expects to rely on customers to do most of his marketing.
Rob Langstaff is putting $4 million into his shoe startup, saying there is too great a disconnect between businesses and consumers. He expects to do $40 million in revenue by 2012 (which would be about half the time of Threadless' way to scale, but could work given his larger experience in the market and the higher price tags).
Interestingly, among some of the people helping Langstaff to set to the business is Mikal Peveto, a former footwear executive who started design-your-own shoe site Customatix in 2000. In case you have followed mass customization since its beginning, you should know Customatix. The company got much attention and had one of the best online configurators of its time. But it also did offer too much of a good thing, giving users really zillions of choices at a time when consumers were not really educated in mass customization configurators.
But Peveto believes Ryzwear can succeed where Customatix failed because consumers today are more comfortable interacting and purchasing online from less-established companies. "Our timing wasn't great. We couldn't get people to buy because they didn't trust the brand," Peveto said. "Now is a completely different time than in 2000 because there are so many different brands that are valid."
So I am curious to see whether Mikal Peveto and Rob Langstaff's predictions come true. They took some serious modifications of adopting the Threadless models for their industry. But Threadless' customers are as much purchasing the membership in a club, a community, by purchasing t-shirts frequently at $15 a pop. I am not quite sure that this will work with $90 sneakers.
To develop however a great (and
profitable) underground line of sneakers with a great story, their approach may
work will. They may want to learn from Muji, the
Japanese's retailer, and its approach to the model. Muji is not just
letting customers vote on new designs, but also asks them to make a
small cash payment on the item they really want to have in stores.
Thus, they can much better predict what
people will purchase later. Such an approach also could benefit RYZ as it would connect the voting process closer with purchasing..