This isn't your grandfather's cobbler. The founder of a custom footwear startup explains the trend towards co-design business models in fashion.
By Ashley Ebner (President & CEO, Joker's Closet)
Designers are constantly reinventing footwear by incorporating new design elements: heel shapes, unique cuts, unconventional textures, colors, materials and hardware. My startup, Joker's Closet, has taken this one step further and reinvented the footwear buying process by incorporating customer control through a customizable, interactive platform.
Joker's Closet takes a co-design approach and is the first fashion footwear brand that gives customers control over color and textures on seasonal designs. Each season we introduce a palette of color and textures for our customers to play with. Jokers are shipped worldwide within three to four weeks of ordering.
Fashion Tech Wave
Looking at the footwear market; there are numerous brands offering "design/customize your own footwear" experiences, ranging from Nike to Converse and even the luxury world is catching on -- Ferragamo and Manolo Blahnik to name a few.
There are also a handful of design your own shoe "services" that allow for full customization. Some of these include Upper Street and Shoe Design Studio. However, similar to Ferragamo and Manolo Blahnik, Joker's Closet takes a co-design approach and believes the core design should be left the experts. Since color and texture are an intricate part of the design process – Joker’s Closet selects and controls the color palette each season. This allows the customer to create unique one of kind footwear, yet still holds true to our original designs.
Why is customization so hot right now?
- Product: Consumers want something unique and personalized. The competitive advantage is that this product can't be purchased at a local store. If the product is purchased at a local store it can be easily identified "Wang SS 2013 flats" and people on the street will be wearing the same thing. A customized product gives customers a one off piece that no one else has. This makes it special.
- Culture: Our consumer culture lives and breathes customization. Customizing one's Starbucks is now an expectation. People customize based on their mood and style which can generate something humble and subtle or loud and adventurous.
- Tech: As consumers are becoming tech savvy, they are more and more comfortable with using new technologies and platforms. The stats show that consumers are more trusting than ever of the online process as online footwear purchases are drastically increasing. This shows that more and more people no longer need to touch and feel the product when making their purchase. However, strong return policies must be in place to earn their trust.
Our Biggest Challenge?
Finding the perfect balance between fashion direction and customer control. While there are services that offer full customization this gives customers a free for all and gives no reason to come back each season.
Joker's Closet is a fashion brand. A fashion brand creates curiosity, eagerness and passion: "What will be their next move?" We believe the structural design of the footwear should be left to the design team – it should inspire, excite, shock and offer cutting edge designs each season.
Launching an ecommerce brand there are a few things that don't need a second thought. The market is competitive and the key challenge is not only winning over the customers' trust but maintaining it. Offering free shipping worldwide and a strong return policy is the core to this. The question is what else can be done to make your customers feel even more special?
As more and more consumers are purchasing footwear online, offering branded, customized, risk free, fashion footwear with quick lead times offers a competitive advantage over the brick and motor shops.
Do you think "co-design" is coming to other product categories?
About the guest blogger: Ashley Ebner is the founder of Joker’s Closet, the first handcrafted, customizable fashion footwear brand that allows customers to design their own shoes through an online platform. Ashley created Joker’s Closet after studying at London College of Fashion to promote playfulness and experimentation through design. Follow her on Twitter @ashebner.