Crowdsourcing is embraced when it comes to funding initiatives like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, but ask any fashion designer about crowdsourcing design for the next collection and there’d be some major hesitation. Within fashion, crowdsourcing can get a bad rap, but the apparel industry is starting to explore how controlled crowdsourced design can be, and how much data can come out of it.
Two New York-based startups, Stylyt and Stitch Collective, democratise the design process, allowing users to co-create limited edition clothing and accessories. Stylyt, which works with contemporary brands including Timo Weiland and Hayden-Harnett, has built an unique technology which allows users to mix and match colors and materials on different bags, jewellery, dresses and more in a web-based design studio. On the other end of the spectrum, Stitch Collective eliminates the pre-production barriers for emerging designers by allowing users to vote on the best handbag designs. At both companies, the winning design is produced.
“Never before could people influence fashion design on this scale,” Stylyt co-founder Nina Cherny explained. “People come to design for one brand, but design for the other brands too. People get really excited and passionate about it.”
The value here is that both companies are tracking data about who their users/consumers are and how those users interact with the fashion process, from design to manufacture to sale. The depth of insight has exciting opportunities for feeding into product development.
“It’s the best for engaging consumers and getting the most useful data for the brand,” Stylyt’s co-founder Jenny Wu explained of the voting element. “It reduces sample biases, and starts to isolate which attributes of these designs are what’s preferred. We decipher patterns and say to brands ‘this is what’s trending’.“
For emerging designers, this can make the business decisions more efficient, by producing only the highest in demand concepts. “We discover what our customers want pre-production, which allows us to cut down on inventory risk,” Stitch Collective founder Loni Edwards said. “We hope to serve as an early indicator of fashion trends.”
This type of captive engagement is exactly what brands need; for emerging designers, crowdfunding serves as a method of gaining brand awareness. “The biggest gain is the exposure,” Edwards explained. “The winner of our last challenge was featured on The Cut in New York Magazine, Refinery29.com and Racked National, among others. He is now getting ready to start his own line.”
It’s not just developing brands and designers who can use crowdsourcing effectively; it’s a tool employed by even the most established designers in the industry. Last year Oscar de la Renta used his Fall runway show to announce his launch of ‘The Board’ – a digital pinboard of brand inspirations and ideas, contributed by consumers. During the conception of his SS13 collection, de la Renta used consumers’ submissions to guide his creative process, and in doing so ensuring his customers’ interest in the next range was heightened – a nice touch.
For designers at large retailers, handing over creative control to the consumer is unrealistic, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t uses for crowdsourcing in this segment too. Australian retailer, Country Road, excelled with their ‘Winter by Request’ line in which they asked customers to vote for their 10 favourite garments from seasons past, with the most popular being rereleased in a capsule collection. A winning combination of crowdsourced opinion (which will guarantee garments stocked will be popular!) and gamification, without having to alter the design process. It worked so well in fact, Country Road are bringing it back for the new season!