San Francisco-based cult clothing retailer Betabrand is debuting a new way for customers to engage in developing new products — an online think tank.
The online-only clothing retailer, which launched in August 2010 and has raised funding from Foundry Group and others, already allows its customers and fans to participate in the creation and promotion of its products. For example with its Disco Open Source Project, users can create their own specialty clothing using its disco fabric. With its Model Citizen program, customers can submit their own photos modeling the clothing they’ve bought on Betabrand. In both cases, Betabrand allows its customers and fans to act as pro bono designers and also its biggest advocates.
Betabrand’s Think Tank allows customers to vote on what ideas should become prototypes. Once these are protyped, then other customers can actually choose to fund that clothing by committing to buying the piece if and when it meets the funding goal to manufacture. Basically, each piece of clothing needs to reach a tipping point in buying commitments to then be funded by Betabrand to develop and manufacture. If and when you choose to commit to buying an item (literally funding the project), you’ll receive up to 30 percent off the item for committing early.
Here’s an example of a hoodie submitted and created by one of Betabrand’s community members. Another example is this Pinstripe Fleece Blazer, created by Betabrand founder Chris Lindland, is at 84 percent funding to goal, with six days left to fund. The blazer would normally cost $188 but any backers would pay $150. Lindland tells us that in the three weeks of launching the Think Tank, four to six new products are actually being funded per week.
As he explains, the Think Tank is the perfect way to prototype and create buzz around ideas, including ones submitted by users. It’s also a valuable data play, he adds, because the company is able to see what buyers are interested in before putting resources toward designing and manufacturing new clothing and products.
While some of Betabrand’s products (i.e. TSA-thwarting scanner-proof underwear) have bordered on wacky, the company is truly advancing the concept of blending crowdsourcing, customer demand and manufacturing. Not only is Betabrand building a community around its products, but it’s attempting to create engagement that most online retailers are unable to attain. Lindland is attempting to hack the manufacturing process for clothing to create products that his customers actually want. It’s similar in some ways to what Quirky is trying to do. Will it work? Early results are good, he says, with a growing number of customers committing to buying items.