We were a very nice group of people, ranging from luxury companies LV, Selve, or Paris-designer Anna Ruohonen to streetwear labels like Converse and Spreadshirt, from great students and professors from the Helsinki design and fashion scene, from specialist consultants like Sergio Dulio (footwear) to my academic colleagues from RWTH-TIM in Aachen.
The day started with a presentation by Sirkku Liukkonen, responsible for customization at the Helsinki concept store of Anna Ruohonen. "From atelier work to mass customization", so the title of the journey Sirkku described. Anna Ruohonen is a Paris-based fashion designer with two clothing labels carrying her name, both for men and women. Her style follows the tradition of Finnish design: the forms are architectural, the cuts are considered, and simplicity and sustainability are key concepts.
They started with customization for some retail clients and slowly moved into the consumer business after opening a mass customization concept store in Helsinki in April 2009. Products are produced together with the general items; all are produced on-demand in Paris. The popularity of the customization offering largely exceeded expectations. "Better fitting is the key word", Sirkku said. No wonder, as they offer the customization service at no additional fee. It is a "premium service for free".
An interesting debate started at this point: Conventionally, "sustainable fashion" is an oxymoron: Fashion is all about change and getting the latest stuff … But as Sirkku explained, sustainability is more than just using eco textiles: "If an item fits well and people really like it, people really will use it for a long time". And Sergio Dulio added: "Mass customization equals sustainability: the amount of products which are not sold corresponds to such a huge batch of energy without no use at all." An interesting debate that we will continue during the next conferences.
The presentation about Anna Ruohonen started a second stream of discussion (along the solution space dimension of our framework): How to balance between the design aesthetics of the brand and the vision of a star designer like Anna Ruohonen: Shall Anna allow the modifications of her dresses that they are suited for customers with body dimensions not seen in her patterns before? Where does the "dream" of a customer ends? What will this mean for a brand?
This is a question that also drives Claudia Kieserling, one of the longest members of our community. Claudia is founder and president of Selve, the first and leading customizer for ladies shoes in the world. "Luxury is a key characteristic of mass customization", she said. "No matter what price you ask, consumers see it as pure luxury." This is an interesting turning point in the discussion, as previously, we saw as one objective – or even as part of the definition – of mass customization that it should reach a large "mass".Claudia reported that her customers are coming for both fashion and fit (often starting for fit, and returning for fashion). Some of her best (and wealthy) customers have ordered more than 100 shoes --- making the shopping of a creation process of her own. For her, "time and experience are the new luxury" – an impression shared by Kamel from Louis Vuitton.
A final example of experience was provided by Sergio Dulio. He has consulted in the past months extensively to an Italian entrepreneur who wants to revolutionize the way how custom-made shoes in the upper segment are sold and produced. A concept / testing store has just been open at the famous Via della Spiga (#17) in Milan.
Under the name of "Rivolta", customers there can experience one of the most advanced configurators in the world. You not just can design your shoes like on your iPhone on huge screens, but also fully try your custom shoes virtually on your own body in a virtual mirror. There also will be an iPhone Application to customize your shoes on the run! Shoes are expensive (Euro 1400 an up), but targeted to business people who have expensive custom shoes anyway, but want to purchase them with a new twist and different level of service and experience. Here, the act of purchasing the shoe becomes a luxury experience.
The Fashion Lab further had a number of interesting live demos. Thorsten Harzer and Moritz Wellige from my group at RWTH Aachen demonstrated a financial model to calculate the impact of mass customization in the clothing industry, developed as part of our Servive project. We could see a demo of a 3D knitting machine -- the complement to rapid manufacturing and laser sintering in the fashion industry ("data in, pullover out"). We got a demonstration of the Corpus.e Foot Scanner and its application at Pakerson, another upscale customizer of men's shoes with a successful store in St. Petersburg.
All in all, a great finale of a great conference!