June 23, 2010

You Are Your Own Designer

photo via: NY Times

In our earlier post, we discussed the recent trend of online shopping sites empowering online communities to take part in dictating trends and design picks. While the sites we previously mentioned discuss how designers first upload their collections and then the customers vote on their favorite, today we introduce you to Blank Label, a customization-focused concept brand that allows its customers to take part in the complete design process, from the initial stages of fabric and color to the final style, design detail, and fit. Fast, convenient, and affordable, Blank Label focuses on customized men's shirts with step-by-step online instructions, allowing customers from anywhere around the world to purchase a co-created product.

photo via: Blank Label

The success of Blank Label reflect the times of today where customers are not only more educated about fashion, but also want something more than just the traditional shopping experience of walking into a store and making a purchase from what is presented. The fact of the matter is, we live in a deeply customized-centered culture. Whether it is choosing our toppings at Pinkberry, placing a photo into our desktop background, or decorating our smart phones with skins and cell phone accessories, we like to have choices and feel unique. Do a Google search of "customized" anything -- customized stickers, wallpaper, towels, etc. -- you are sure to find a store that will do it for you. With globalization and technology, practically everything we purchase is made in mass quantities. Therefore, the ability to customize is, and will continue to be, essential. It offers a sense of ownership and a deeper personal relationship between the object and it's user, making the product distinctive from the rest.

photo via: Vans

And fashion is no exception. We are aware that Blank Label is not an entirely revolutionary concept; let's not forget that footwear brands like Vans, Nike, and Converse have all been offering customized shoes for some time now. But nonetheless, Blank Label's focus on tailored shirts is a simple yet brilliant concept that we are excited about. So instead of giving you our opinion, we take you straight to the source as we reached out to one of the founders, Danny Wong, for a quick interview to share with our readers.

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself and the company. 
Blank Label is the brainchild of Fan Bi and Danny Wong, two young entrepreneurs looking to change the way men shop, starting with co-created dress shirts. Our other two founding partners are Zeeshan Muhammad and Alec Harrison. We have been around for about six months now, launched in November 2009. We value affordable luxury and the ability to design-your-own, or co-create your own, products, since standard styles and sizes do not work for everyone. Consumers should be able to get a product individually made for them, at a less-than-outrageous price. That's why our custom dress shirts start at $45. 

2. How did you get the idea of starting a customized shirt business?

Fan and I loved the idea of custom clothing, and we wanted to put a real neat spin on it. We originally ran Blank Label as a custom tailor shop selling suits and dress shirts, which would be made-to-measure, but the business had some issues of its own. We decided to scrap that business and build something we thought was sexier. Something that would be far more appealing than something your local tailor would offer. We chose the co-created dress shirt because you could really customize every aspect of the dress shirt and still look casual and not over-the-top. I suppose it was also a great test product too, and we were right because we've been doing co-created dress shirts ever since we launched.

3. Who is your customer? How international are your clients?
Our customer is the new-age male who is slightly metrosexual, cares about his style, appreciates a good fit, hates buying off the rack since most other guys can buy the same shirts, and is a middle to middle-upper class male. Most of our customers are US local, but our other big markets are the UK, Spain and Australia.

4. You are based in Boston, but the shirts are made in Shanghai. How did you determine which factory to work with and how do you regulate the quality & production of your factory?

We are currently in Shanghai for the summer, but when we first set up production, we visited a decent amount of tailors and production facilities and found one we had great synergy with. We have someone who is paid for Quality Assurance, so we are confident our product is quality while still being affordable.

5. Do you have any plans to expand Blank Label and offer customization for other types garments? Womenswear?
We have thought about doing women's custom dress shirts, but we don't because we aren't ready to expand, plus we are only four guys who don't know enough about women's fashion other than what looks good and what doesn't on a woman. Other thoughts have been going back to doing suits, maybe trousers, jackets, boxers, etc. 

6. What has been the most challenging part of running Blank Label?

The most challenging thing has been building demand for co-created product. Most consumers are happy with product and industries the way they are now, but we are looking to influence consumers to be more co-creation conscious to have more men actively searching for co-created dress shirts, which mean more business for us, and more supporters of co-creation, which is just good overall because we are looking to change the world so in a few years, anyone can get a whole custom outfit they co-created without paying a premium price, even if Blank Label didn't co-create it. 

7. As technology is advancing, how do you see the fashion retail industry changing over the next several years?

The Fashion retail industry might start using more advanced tech like augmented reality, hologramming, or just better designer applications where consumers can easily design product without ever using a needle or thread. 

8. Where is your fabric from?

Our fabric is sourced here in mills in China. 

9. What is your view on the rise of eco-friendly fashion?

Eco-friendly fashion is definitely a valuable market. Consumers want to reduce their carbon footprint and if they can get a nice product and know they are helping the environment, they are happy. 

10. Do you offer eco-friendly options? Is Blank Label eco and/or socially conscious? And if so, how?

While we do not have eco-friendly fabrics, we operate as a eco-friendly business because we are not wasteful like most retail stores since we only produce product when consumers demand it. Normal retail stores try predicting demand and there's an inefficiency there because they might underproduce which just makes for a lot of 'wanting' customers or they might overproduce which leads to waste when they can't sell off product, especially with high-end fashion which would prefer to burn clothes rather than discount them to sell all inventory or give them away to charity since they do not want to devalue their brand. 

11. For anyone else interested in a start up company, what are some of the lessons you have learned and can share from your own experience?

Some lessons we've learned are that you have to be prepared for scary surprises, and good surprises as well because sometimes good things can turn bad, really quickly. Understand that crazy things happen, and be very flexible with your business too. Being customer-driven is also very important because you live and die by your customers so taking their advice to heart is incredibly important and using their suggestions to improve your business is a valuable way of leveraging user feedback.

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