Mass customization is a new approach to
manufacturing and providing services that
is revolutionizing business. As consumers
and retailers demand more individualized
products and services, apparel producers
are rethinking their approaches to
products and manufacturing processes.
|Digital printing can be used to produce mass customized clothing.|
- The term mass customization
describes the adaptation of mass
production, process & information
technologies, and management
to increase personalized offerings with customer involvement.
- The goal of mass customization is
for customers to find exactly what
they want when they want it at a
Flexible manufacturing and quick response make this possible.
A key component in mass customization is
the reduction of time from order to
delivery. Davis (1987) describes the time
rules of mass customization as:
- Customers need product orders in
their time frame, and not the
apparel producers’ time frames.
- Apparel producers who shorten
work-in-process time and ship
products as soon as an order is
completed will have an advantage
over their competitors.
- Reduced lag time between
customers’ identification and
fulfillment of needs will decrease
work in process and inventory.
"We outsource our manufacturing here in the city to a union factory...We’re getting orders everyday from the customer so it doesn’t behoove us to have our stuff queued up behind someone else and get it all at once. We need to be cutting our product every day, be sewing everyday, and be shipping it everyday. "
Peter Del Rio of IC3D explains how mass customization uses real time manufacturing to produce and ship orders as they are received. This requires new manufacturing processes that are based on single garment construction instead of large orders focused on lower prices with volume. Time is most important so that customers receive their products quickly and IC3D has no unsold inventory.
Let’s explore mass customization options
in apparel production by the points at
which customers become involved in the
production process as is illustrated in the
apparel mass customization model below.
(adapted from Duray, Ward, Milligan, Berry, 2000)
Mass customization involves customers
more than mass production. For example,
consumers and retailers help in the design
process by selecting garment details,
fabrics or size measurements for clothing
Mass customization requires
enabling technologies for production,
information, and communication. Here is an
expanded list of these technologies that
support product development, production,
What is Mass Customization?
Mass customization strategies can be used at any of these six stages in the production process.
- Customer Involvement at the Pattern Stage
- Customer Involvement at the Design Stage
- Customer Involvement in Production Planning
- Customer Involvement at the Assembly Stage
- Customer Involvement in Distribution
- Customer Involvement after the Purchase
Mass customization shortens production
time and increases production efficiency
while creating an individualized product or
service. Its technologies reduce order to
delivery time while increasing individuality.
Mass customization can be the basis for
an entire business (e.g. IC3D.com,
Timbuktu.com) or one piece of the
business (e.g., Lands’ End). Producers can
adapt their design and production
processes to incorporate some mass
customized products or services.
For example, retailers might request a
current style to be ordered with a
different fabric or sleeve. Or they
continuously replenish their inventory with
orders based on past consumer purchases.
When a customer enters the mass customization process at the pattern stage, custom fit or design can occur. Patterns can be developed for individual
customers and the ultimate form of mass customization occurs -- manufacturing for a market of one.
Mass customization at the pattern stage is made possible with enabling technologies such as computer-aided design (CAD), digital printing, single ply,
automated cutting, and the body scanning pictured here. A customer can provide measurements and define styling details & fabric prints for unique
clothing items that can be produced efficiently through mass customization processes and technology.
Body scanning technology collects over 200,000 3D data points to describe the body’s outer surface. These data points develop a more accurate representation of the body than the limited number of linear measurements taken with a tape measure (e.g., waist, hips, chest, back neck, etc.). And the scanning process only takes 12 seconds. Measurements compatible with computer aided design (CAD) pattern making systems are extracted
from the data cloud, permitting development of individually sized patterns.
Digital textile printing allows for unique designs to be printed onto pre-cut fabric that is
then cut and sewn into unique apparel items. Apparel producers would have pattern
pieces ready for printing when a customer order for a particular print is received. This
would save time in the production process where apparel producers currently purchase
textile goods months in advance, without being sure any customer will order a particular
|Digital printing technology enables fabric to be
Single ply, automated cutting equipment and flexible manufacturing strategies are also essential to mass customization. While the advantage of mass
production is high volume in one style, the advantage of mass customization is flexible, time-sensitive production without wasteful inventory. Apparel
articles are produced only for order and the orders may be for as few as one or two pieces.
Current Industry Examples of Patterns
At the design stage, components can be chosen by the consumer or retailer from a finite number of size,
garment style, and fabric options. Consumers selecting pants with length variations within the regular size
categories (e.g. size 12 long) or a shirt with neckline options are examples of component choice mass
customizations. Retailers working with apparel producers to set style, fabric, and size specifications for private label products is an example of component choice mass customization. For example, retailers can
add the store logo or request a specific color during the design stage of production.
|Customer may choose garment styles, such as necklines
and front openings.
Component choice mass customization gives the power of choice to the consumer, retailer, or business customer within limits. The manufacturer may limit
customer options by offering only fabric choices or sleeve style choices or size choices. Or the apparel producer can offer customers all three options. The
important point is that the customer is involved at the design stage and chooses from a number of alternatives.
Your-T is an example of a component choice e-commerce website. Note this interactive site on the Designers as
Entrepreneurs site under your-T button. I would like this to be more obvious so that people can get to it in different ways.
Current Industry Examples of Design
|Point-of-Sale purchase using an electronic link.
Mass Customization strategies at the Production Planning stage and later at the Point-of-Sale (POS) stage are enabled by electronic links among the
departments of an apparel producer and between the producer and its customers. Major retailers currently use EDI or electronic data interchange for
ordering, invoicing, and shipping. These EDI links, and now Internet links, can be used to collect consumer purchase data and to base production plans on
Apparel producers traditionally operated on a 66-week production cycle, from design and ordering fabric to customer delivery. Mass customization can
increase competitiveness by shortening this production time through production planning strategies. Forecasting future orders based on consumer
purchases is one mass customization strategy. Testing styles and fabrics with retail customers during the pre-season provides valuable information used
to plan (or mass customize) production. Basic styles and styles identified by retailers for which an apparel producer is certain to get orders can be
produced early in the season. Then, production time is free later in the season for the styles that sell very well and are reordered. The goal is to make
enough pieces of the styles that sell and will be reordered and not make too many pieces of the styles that will not sell.
Current Industry Examples of Production
Apparel customers can become involved in mass customization at the manufacturing stage if they want to repeat an order in a
small quantity or with new fabrics. These small lot orders could take the form of basic styles that are reordered each year or during
the season with new and well-received colors and fabrics or slight style modifications. The design and patterns already exist so the
order is easily repeated using CAD equipment and sent directly to assembly? Flexible manufacturing strategies such as modular
manufacturing increase the efficiency of small order production.
Current Industry Examples of Assembly
With the advent of bar codes and electronic data interchange (EDI), consumer point-of-sale (POS) information is available to both retailer and apparel
producer. This information opens up the possibility of delivering apparel goods to retail customers based on their sales and inventory needs.
Current Industry Examples of Distibution
Mass customizing the delivery of apparel goods could revolutionize retailing by changing its basic assumptions. Rather than assuming and planning for
markdowns halfway through a selling season, retailers order a small portion of each season’s order and use consumer sales to decide which styles need
to be reordered and in what sizes and colors.
Some retailers study the POS data and manage their own reorders. Some retailers put apparel producers in charge of this process, called vendor-
managed replenishment. Apparel producers can also use point-of-sale information to manage their own production planning based on the styles and
delivery dates they predict retailers will request.
Post-purchase adjustments can be built into the product for customers to do it themselves. Unhemmed
pants, do-it-yourself kits for designing T-shirts, and sneakers with the choice of three colors of laces are all examples of post-purchase customer
adjustments. More high tech adjustments in shoes, such as fit adjustments using air inflation in sneakers and gel in ski boots, suggest a future for
creative post-purchase adjustments that could increase a firm’s competitiveness.
Current Industry Examples of Post Purchase
|Example from Issey Miyake’s A-POC line of clothing.
Image from National Geographic, January 2003
1. How does mass customization combine custom and mass production strategies to offer both customization and low price?
2. After exploring the product configurator made available at
www.digikids.cornell.edu and some commercial web sites, describe the value added to mass customized products with customer involvement.
3. List three technologies that enable mass customization strategies that might work for your business and explain how they would increase your efficiencies based on time and/or customer involvement.