We’re in a strong climate of self-expression—from loud-and-proud protest messages to highly personalized street style that challenges top-down fashion dictates. Designers have made it easy to accessorize this moment with an endless array of DIY accessories that can be mixed-and-matched for any mood…or built from scratch. This is being done in store, online and for at home, and at virtually every pricepoint.
Capturing this zeitgeist, Lord & Taylor’s had a recent Birdcage theme of Personalization, featuring blank canvas tees ($6) and jeans and a huge variety of patches and pins to help consumers build their own messages. The retailer tested sequin patch company Bow and Drape last year and it has since become a permanent station in the store, with friends often shopping together and buying coordinating pieces. “We’ve seen in-store personalization as a shared, social event,” says Lord & Taylor VP Fashion Director Stephanie Solomon. “Also, people might need advice when the options get too daunting, and they can get that from friends or salespeople in store.”
Consumers can DIY at the luxury end too. Newcomer Mon Purse has quickly scored in the luxury space with its DIY handbag concept, where a consumer-built bag might run $650. Launched in late 2014 in Australia with outposts in Selfridges and Bloomingdale’s New York with a second location in San Francisco, Mon Purse’s current revenue rate is 600% higher than 6 months prior, notes Lana Hopkins. “Digitally, customers design every part of a handbag from scratch using a 3D bag builder on the brand’s website or on a department store kiosk. The 3D bag builder boasts over 10 billion design combinations via an easy to use seamlessly integrated user interface.”
The rollout at Bloomingdale’s shows how digital and bricks can merge to each other’s advantage. “Mon Purse is the first concession with the ability to customize as well as monogram, and our staff has been fully trained to help shoppers through the experience,” says Sharon Wax, Bloomingdale’s Senior Vice President in charge of Omni Concession and Designer RTW. “We find our customers who may be shopping for a gift will always end up treating themselves as well. The numbers of a first-time site visitors buying at Mon Purse on their first visit is very strong, but also the majority of our customers having visited the site twice or more before they purchase which demonstrates they like what they see enough to now go and do their own research.”
Speed is also key in the customized world and manufacturers are amping up how quickly they can deliver (this is a customer used to Amazon Prime, after all!). Australian brand Shoe of Prey just announced it’s cut its made-to-order delivery down to two weeks by bringing manufacturing in-house and cutting out third parties. A one-week express option is under way. According to a consumer study, by Deloitte, 48% of customers are willing to wait longer for a customized product. Shoes of Prey has also closed its brick-and-mortar outposts in retailers such as Nordstrom in favor of an all online model.
Qüero Shoes is another newcomer to the design-your-own space. Open through July 2017, the US-based company has opened a storefront in the Refinery Hotel in New York where men and women can create and design a custom pair of shoes to fit their personal needs and style starting at $185 and up. While consumers design their shoes on a laptop, quality leathers from Italy, Spain and France are on hand to see colors and touch/feel materials. While based in the States, Quero Shoes are handmade in Spain by artisans with generations of experience.
Unique Italian O Bags has created its entire rubber brand around the modular, create-your-own model, and with 650 franchises around the world and eight in the States (Miami, Los Angeles, Cleveland), it’s evident the concept has caught on. Consumers pick bodies, handles, linings, straps, etc., and Operations Manager Lucia Liberali notes that consumers shop differently in store than they do on the year-old website. “In store the average sale is $125, but online it’s more like $220. In the stores they will take the time to assemble that perfect bag or a watch but online they’ll buy one dial and three straps to mix and match. I also think consumers buy more online to hit the free shipping threshold!
Personalization company Trend:Bar is quick to point out how easily the DIY concept can adapt to fashion shifts and how broad the customer base is. “We’ve expanded from patch materials to stick-on pearls, 3D florals, crystals and studs. Now we’re really going after shoelaces, from velvet to crochet and glitter. Everyone is wearing the same white sneaker and I see blank canvases everywhere!” says co-founder Lindsey Schwartz. “And while one customer will add a simple stripe or shoelace, others will completely deck them out. There is something for everyone.”
Trend:Bar just rolled out a personalization program in 150 DSW stores and online, with more to come. “Fashion is an expression of who you are and a reflection of your personal style, so partnering with TREND:BAR and offering our customers the opportunity to personalize their favorite footwear or accessory was a no brainer,” says Todd Dreith, GMM – Men’s, Athletic, Kid’s, Handbags & Accessories.
Quick change accessories are not only economical, but ecological and space-saving as well. Cambiami sandals with their 3-in-1 switch off tops were inspired by the founder’s vacation stay in Greece, where she packed 10 pairs of sandals for a 12-day trip. The brand claims to have saved over 20,000 pounds (10 tons) of soles from being dumped in landfills by simply saving the sole and changing the strap. Three-in-one options retail for $128 to $138.
Goldno.8 is a quilted nylon bag that is customizable and completely reversible. The silver backpack (with reversible black matte interior), for example, starts at $265, with pin add-ons at $15 each and leather tassels at $45.
Some companies ease consumer indecisiveness by removing the guesswork. Steve Madden sells denim blue and military olive totes with an attached pouch filled with a variety of curated self-attachable patches. The set retails for $78. On early sell-through reads, the olive is outselling the denim 9 to 1, according to the company.
Another fun idea that has hit the higher end realm are self-contained DIY kits where consumers can design their own accessories at home. Interactive Brazilian brand CIAO MAO, which has won several design awards (IDEA/IDSA), lets the consumer create the shoe from supplied components. “We suggest retailers buy kits with 3 or more accessories per pair,” says Marketing Manager Daniel Hayashi. “It’s a way for the customer to understand the concept of interactivity, but it’s an easier way for the retailer to present the brand. The nice touch of exclusivity, the retailer can choose a special kit with 3 or more accessories from our huge range, so that combination is exclusive for his store.”
Meanwhile, Korean handbag newcomer ASMBLY sells handbags in complete DIY kits where the consumer does everything from piece together the leather parts to tighten the bolts. No engineering degree required, thankfully.
Eyewear has gotten into mix as well, with customized brand-specific programs. Ray-Ban REMIX has expanded its customizable lens program to a novel program that allows customers to customize their sunglass temples with their social media feed. Huh? The site links to someone’s Instagram feed, compressing the images into a striped pattern. And while not obvious to anyone but the wearer, it’s an incredibly personal and emotional product. It’s playful too, as you can actually see the images being pulled from your Instagram and compressed into the line pattern in real time. The tagline? Wear Your Story. Do You.
Even evening bags have gone modular, as seen at ModJewel, which lets users switch up the front panel, clasps and straps. The bare bag starts at $145, while covers and clasps are added at $25 each.