Will made-to-order polos have everyone wanting to wear Ralph Lauren?

Discussion
Source: RalphLauren.com
May 19, 2021

Brands have been touting the potential of mass customization for years, but is the time now right to make it work in a really big way? The answer is yes, as far as Ralph Lauren is concerned.

The designer lifestyle brand, which has an existing on-demand manufacturing program called Create-Your-Own, is looking to build on that vision with the launch of “The Made-to-Order Polo” feature yesterday on its direct-to-consumer site.

Every shirt made for customers is created to the buyer’s specifications with none of the polos made prior to an order being placed. Lauren is using “flat-knit technology” to make the polos that are currently available in six designs and 24 color combinations. The brand said this will open up hundreds of design possibilities as customers choose colors for the body of the shirt, its sleeves and collar. Further customization is available on the sleeves by adding letters, words or initials. Lauren is planning to add more options including new graphic designs, logos and limited edition features going forward.

The company said that creating shirts via the mass customization model provides multiple business benefits. It helps reduce the amount of inventory that Lauren carries, it promotes rapid fulfillment and gratifies the fashion wishes of its brand loyalists. In the end it also reduces the need for markdowns as customized products do not require premade inventory to work.

The customization model will help Lauren reduce material waste, as well, cut costs and keep product out of landfills.

“Creating custom product is a pretty complex and logistically demanding process, and [it] traditionally touches many hands through the production lifecycle,” David Lauren, the company’s chief innovation and branding officer and vice chairman of the board, told Glossy. “With our manufacturing-on-demand platform, we’ve created a digital solution that automates the flow of data from the consumer point of purchase directly through to the factory, that enables us to create and deliver a totally custom product in as little as two weeks.”

Ralph Lauren is launching a marketing campaign with mobile pop-ups in key markets. The brand’s retail stores and select wholesale locations will also launch “color-themed in-store experiences.” Polo is further looking to use social media, including special Snapchat and TikTok initiatives, to build buzz around its made-to-order efforts.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you think now is the time for mass customization to take off in the U.S.? Is Ralph Lauren in a better or worse position to test the viability of a large-scale made to order model than others with similar aspirations?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Assuming made-to-order shirts work, imagine the possibilities for other Ralph Lauren products."
"Do I think the time is now? Given the second-hand market rise, the answer is “maybe.”"
"This mass customization effort is a targeted marketing focus that has a limited appeal since any customization will increase costs compared to a properly marketed mass model."

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19 Comments on "Will made-to-order polos have everyone wanting to wear Ralph Lauren?"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

Technology is making mass customization a reality and brands like Ralph Lauren are wise to explore it if not embrace it. This is a curious move for Ralph Lauren who has historically told their consumers what is cool and fashionable. No doubt some of the customizations customers may love would offend the fashion sensibilities of Mr. Lauren himself. As exciting as mass customization is, I’m not quite sure it’s exactly the right fit for Ralph Lauren.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

I remember back in the ’80s there was a brand with a logo of the rider falling off his horse. Ralph Lauren sued them for trademark infringement and won, putting the start-up out of business. Fortunately, I bought four or five of their polos before they disappeared.

Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

This mass customization effort is a targeted marketing focus that has a limited appeal since any customization will increase costs compared to a properly marketed mass model. If Ralph Lauren simply offered their shirts in customer choices of colors and styles, without the customization of lettering, they could still enjoy the benefits of lowered inventory, minimal waste, and higher efficiency, while broadening their product’s appeal.

David Naumann
BrainTrust

There is definitely the demand for personalized, custom designed apparel as evidenced by the several sneaker manufacturers that have rolled-out customized designs (Nike, Adidas, Vans, and others). Premium apparel brands have historically offered embroidered initials on clothing and now is the time to extend the customization to fabric types and color combinations. This is a smart strategy for Ralph Lauren and this should be a successful campaign. However, with a price tag of $105-$168 for a polo shirt, it won’t appeal to value conscious shoppers.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

Now is the time for customization – as was last year, the year before, etc. Customers like when something is done just for them. If Ralph Lauren can pull this off and keep it cost effective, they have an opportunity to “own their customer.” Once the brand delivers the custom product that the customer wants, they will buy it again and again. That creates repeat business – and even potential loyal business.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Mass customization is the next big thing in manufacturing. (How about your Mini?) Manufacturing technology and automation make it possible. However in the apparel industry it will have a major negative impact on retailers. It is one more reason for a customer to go online.

But, what I really like is the ability to get rid of the Polo logo.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

Well if we can have personalized M&Ms, why not personalized Polo shirts?

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Customization will increase the customer satisfaction at the same time that it will, inevitably, increase the price of each garment. One problem looming on the horizon is that Ralph Lauren may not be happy with figures that do not compliment the Ralph Lauren look wearing a Ralph Lauren anything (call it exclusivity).

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

There are two conflicting trends here – product personalization is a huge trend that I believe is only going to grow as technology improves and costs come down for one-off production. On the other hand, I can’t remember the last time someone my kids’ age (20s-30s) actually wore a polo style shirt. I think it was for 4th grade photos. I suspect in certain circles these will be a status symbol. For most consumers, polo shirts are something you buy at Target for $15 when you need a collared shirt for an event.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

This is a no-brainer, and it has worked beautifully for Nike. Assuming made-to-order shirts work, imagine the possibilities for other Ralph Lauren products.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

Levi’s tried this about a decade or so ago. Custom made jeans. It ultimately didn’t work because of the dilemma, “What to do with returns?” Among other reasons around profitability.

Do I think the time is now? Given the second-hand market rise, the answer is “maybe.” Not a slam dunk on any account, but the times are different, so I can’t give it a hard “no.”

Liza Amlani
BrainTrust

This is a GREAT move for Ralph Lauren and it is the right time for mass customization and accessible personalization for the brand.

As a former Ralph Lauren merchant, we had so many requests for personalization across Polo, Purple Label and Lauren. Many flagship doors including London’s Regent Street had a personalization bar and customers were always lined up to get their customized Polo shirts.

The fact that Ralph Lauren has upped their tech stack to include speed to market + customization is exactly what the customer wants.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

Great brand + design flexibility + technology + personal preference = a really fun opportunity for brand distinction. I have to believe there are some guard rails in place to avoid the wrong kind of distinction.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Guard rails? That is a disappointment.

Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

I suspect that you are correct Jeff, but don’t guard rails diminsh the idea of customization?

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

I’m only suggesting that the range of customization might want to have some boundaries. If I’m a high profile brand there are words, logos, emojis, etc. that I would not want stitched next to my own logo. Customization of branded product is different than designing your own screened t-shirt.

Venky Ramesh
BrainTrust

While personalization initiatives are scattered across the CPG spectrum, personalization-at-scale remains the Holy Grail. It’s heartening to see the apparel industry taking a lead on it. Amazon’s Made For You, Walmart’s recent acquisition of Zeekit, StitchFix’s curated wardrobe model, and now Ralph Lauren’s mass customized polo shirts are all leading to that goal but from different angles. Through personalization initiatives, consumers are not only sharing their preferences directly with CPG companies, but they are also putting skin in the game by purchasing the product.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

In the effort to be unique and authentic, Ralph Lauren and other mass merchandising retailers should embrace the personalization operating model and capitalize on this emerging segment. A mass customization model is a win-win for both the consumers and for the DTC retail brands. The customer controls the journey and decides the level of customizations they would like. In parallel, Ralph Lauren’s manufacturing on-demand operating model, while initially costly, will mitigate the sheer amount of inventory they will need to carry once the economies of scale kick in.

This is somewhat reminiscent of the DTC movement, where Bonobos, Indochino, and others established a mass customization model. Where every single transaction is personalized, customized, and fits the customer’s exact specifications. By taking a page out of the DTC strategy playbook, Ralph Lauren could certainly drive a new business model, and resonate with a customer who wants to drive their own experiences.

Kenneth Leung
BrainTrust

There is always a demand for logo wear in corporate settings and it looks like RL is testing whether it will work for regular consumers. The key will be adoption by consumers and whether RL can do it profitably without diluting the brand value.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Assuming made-to-order shirts work, imagine the possibilities for other Ralph Lauren products."
"Do I think the time is now? Given the second-hand market rise, the answer is “maybe.”"
"This mass customization effort is a targeted marketing focus that has a limited appeal since any customization will increase costs compared to a properly marketed mass model."

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