As fashion continues to push toward democratization, brands are involving consumers in the design process.
Crowdsourcing and crowdfunding product design isn’t new, as the rapid growth of Kickstarter demonstrates. But the fashion world has been slow to join the trend. Of the nearly 300,000 projects on Kickstarter, only 16,338 (5 percent) are fashion-oriented.
However, crowdfunding fashion platform Betabrand is attracting interest, most recently through a partnership with Timberland. The shoemaker brought consumers in “from sketch to fabrication to crowdfundable prototype,” starting with asking for their feedback on initial designs on social media.
Timberland fans helped narrow 30 designs to three before the final models launched on Betabrand on Tuesday. The designs will remain on the site for the next 30 days for people to buy, allowing the company to track real-time data on each of the models before they officially launch in the fall.
Chris Lindland, founder and CEO of Betabrand, said while Kickstarter is effective for some aspiring designers, the biggest benefit is to people trying to start a full-fledged company. Betabrand lets designers gain visibility for their garments without the added pressure of forming a business.
“If you’re a designer, one of the difficult things is having a portfolio of work in which usually 90 percent of it is never made,” Lindland said. “There’s not necessarily an industry that is turning all these ideas into products. [Betabrand] allows designers to focus on being designers and not manufacturers.”
Part of the increase in fashion crowdsourcing may be attributed to the rise of crowdfunding, largely as the result of a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commissions June 2015 ruling. The policy change allowed non-accredited individuals — those with a net worth of less than $1 million and who earned less than $200,000 annually in the last two years — to invest in early stage companies, the Business of Fashion reported.
Jay Steere, senior director of Timberland’s innovation division, spearheaded the project, inspired by his personal forays into Betabrand and the company’s “maniacal focus on consumer engagement at the apparel level.”
Steere referred to the process as “customer co-creation” rather than crowdsourcing, and said he was drawn to Betabrand’s ability to foster dialogue between the consumer and designer. Timberland has also used traditional methods of gathering consumer feedback, like focus groups and man-on-the-street interviews.
“Brands today have to differentiate themselves from other companies and fads and trends,” Steere said. “And the way Timberland does that is to have a customer dialogue. Having a conversation where you’re co-creating with the consumer is the ultimate goal.”
While the effort is a pilot program for Timberland, Steere did not rule out future crowdsourcing efforts. Timberland is the largest company Betabrand has partnered with to date, which may encourage smaller brands to follow suit.
“We’re trying to turn the entire design process into a social experience. We try to get designs to people as fresh as they come out of the designer’s head and make it a community discussion,” Lindland said.