The Benefits of Mass Customization
The concept of mass customization was first introduced to the fashion world in the early 1990s. Some would argue that mass customization is an attempt to return us as a consumer society to the personalisation that used to be standard for clothing. Most clothing and shoes that people wore were either made at home or bought from a tailor, where adjustments could be performed as necessary for the perfect fit. For almost a century, we got lost in mass production, with attention only just now turning back toward the ethical and ecological repercussions of such actions.
So, what does mass customization bring to the table? What is mass customization, really? And why have we at Purse for the People incorporated it into our practices?
What is Mass Customization?
- To put it simply, mass customization is creating something for a large-scale audience but customizing the product to suit the needs or desires of an individual.
- In their 2010 paper Innovative Mass Customization in the Fashion Industry, Ho-Ting Yeung, Tsan-Ming Choi, and Chun-Hung Chiu summarised mass customization as “producing customized products or services for satisfying individuals with the efﬁciency of mass production”.
- Mass customization in the realm of fashion provides consumers with the ability to personalize items such as clothing, footwear, jewellery, bags , and accessories.
- Nothing is manufactured until the customer personalizes it using specialized software and the purchase goes through.
But is mass customization simply about providing more choice to consumers? Many would argue it is more than that. Proponents of the model highlight that there is the potential to reduce overproduction, save money on inventory costs, advance technology within the digital retail space, and increase efficiency. The concept could also arguably be linked to the slow fashion movement, with the possibility of the practice of helping the fashion industry become more environmentally sustainable.
The Problem of Overproduction
One of the many positives of the mass customization model is the potential to reduce the issue of overproduction and wastage in the fashion industry. The issue of overproduction is a significant one, both in the fast fashion sphere and that of luxury fashion. The fashion industry is estimated to generate about 10% of the world’s greenhouse gases. We’ve all seen videos or photos of fast fashion clothing dumps; truckloads of clothing that has never been worn.
By using mass customization, companies might be able to reduce that waste by ensuring that they are making direct to order products, rather than churning out off-the-rack products that are not guaranteed to sell. As Yanie Durocher points out in an article for Forbes, “Fast fashion wouldn't necessarily have to be called "fast" anymore as items could be created based on a person's needs.”
Even on the basis of something as basic as personal taste, if you have the opportunity to customize something to be perfect for you, then the likelihood of you keeping the item, using it, and cherishing it increases. As the founder of Purse for the People, Carole Murphy said:
(bump out into a quote) “From the very beginning when Purse for the People was only a concept, I knew that online customization of the product was a very important element of our enterprise. I wanted customers to have the power to make their bag special and of their own creative expression.”
It is very clear to all that overproduction, especially in fast fashion, is an issue that is not going away quickly. This article is an excellent examination of how striking a balance with the mass customization model as a way to tackle overproduction can be approached.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
As Durocher points out, this is an age of digital buyers: more than 2.14 billion of them. Online shopping in all areas increased dramatically over the course of the pandemic. In the UK alone, online shopping increased by 75% compared to before the pandemic. And online shopping can remove the opportunity to try on clothing or handle it, increases the chances of an item being returned.
For many, they likely assume that returning an item will allow it to be cleaned, repackaged, and sold again. Sadly, that is not always the case.
Most of those returns, along with the excess stock created by overproduction, end up in landfill. In the case of luxury brands, returns and excess stock are often destroyed or burnt to sustain the constructed law of scarcity
This doesn’t get rid of the problem; it simply ensures that the water and ecosystems that inevitably become polluted are out of sight. Anannya Bhattacharjee, international coordinator of Asia Floor Wage Alliance, quoted in Aja Barber’s book Consumed. The need for collective change: colonialism, climate change & consumerism highlights:
“Fast fashion is not just demeaning workers’ lives, but destroying the planet because of its over-consumption of water and the destruction of oceans with microfibers. So, what we need is a system of production and consumption which is attentive to what we need for our sustainable lives and for the planet. Companies still need to make a profit, but we are currently operating at an extreme greed level – we need a much more balanced approach where people and planet are prioritized and companies can make a profit, but with a focus on regeneration, redistribution, and the balanced planet.”
Mass customization might be able to reduce some of the overproduction that leads to this environmental destruction. This is why Purse for the People offers buyers the opportunity to customize their purchases.
Customization and Ethical Consumerism
Mass customization is not the answer to every problem that currently faces the fashion industry, but it could begin to improve things. More importantly, however, is the number of consumers who are becoming more environmentally and ethically conscious with their purchases. These are the kind of people who want to find ways to be better consumers.
As we’ve explored in some previous blog posts, Purse for the People is committed to using the ethical, environmentally friendly materials in our bags as much as possible. Adding mass customization and personalization into the Purse for the People process just makes sense.
Carole Murphy, our founder, had this to say:
“I saw Mass Customization as an incredibly sustainable and useful paradigm shift for the world of manufacturing. If we are only making what the customer designs and purchases, we are eliminating the problem of overproduction which is always going to be an aspect of mass production that's very unsustainable and wasteful. Such waste is avoidable, not to mention the environmental impacts. Burning or sending unsold items to the landfill when the items are made from toxic materials will pollute the air, soil and water for future generations to clean up. Why are we doing this when there are alternatives? Let's create a new reality in the world of fashion that's beautiful, sustainable and much healthier for people and planet.”