The age of mass production has cranked out mountains of cheaply made goods, but these cheap goods come at a high price. With all of the emphasis on quantity and driving costs down, quality suffers and durability is often ignored. There's a hidden environmental cost that must be paid sooner or later as well, and there's a human price when labor is treated as disposable. And there's an erosion of our individuality when we are mass consumers of mass marketed and mass produced goods. The rising trend of co-creation takes on all of these side effects of consumerism, as I found when I was recently introduced to Severin Jan Ruegger of Solosso.
In co-creation, the customer is a partner in the creative process, tailoring their own purchases to fit their individual needs. Rather than just buying whatever is sitting on store shelves, we can reach through to the design of our own products, whether they are shoes, shirts, or cupcakes. Co-creation is a natural extension of social networking and the world of new media, in which every individual has value and something to say. Those who are comfortable with this emerging new world don't want cookie cutter homes, cookie cutter clothes, or cookie cutter lives. We want to get involved in things like we do on the web. We're not just consuming media—we're making it, and now we can do the same for our shirts.
Solosso is a leader in co-creation for men's wear, making it possible for their customers to create high-quality custom dress shirts that are perfect just for them, and do it for a reasonable price. Shirt-buyers can go to their website and select the design, the fabric, and details like the cuff and collar, then submit their design for hand production by an experienced tailor. Solosso's handmade dress shirts use high quality materials and production methods, so they are built to look good, feel good, fit well, and to last. By co-creating men's dress shirts with you, each shirt they make is the perfect shirt for you.
"Co-creation is the future of retail," said Ruegger. "It is inherently interactive and collaborative, and empowers consumers beyond anything seen before. Solosso is living proof that co-creation not only yields better products that are high in quality and low in cost, but a leaner, greener organization."
It's easy to think that a shirt is a shirt and go for the cheapest shirt on the rack, but this is a mistake. Mass produced shirts are cheaper, but they're also put together poorly, made of low quality materials, and with little regard for the environment or those who produce the shirts. In their efforts to produce quality bespoke dress shirts, Solosso is also improving the impact of their men's dress shirts on the environment and on the people who make them. Those making the shirts work in fair conditions and receive fair wages, including those involved making fabrics and packaging. They are working on improving their environmental impact throughout their supply chain as well, reducing waste and greenhouse gas emissions, and offsetting emissions that cannot be eliminated. The buttons are made from cultured mother of pearl, not wild, and more durable than plastic buttons. And while the fabrics they need for their custom dress shirts are not yet available as organic fabric, they are reducing their environmental impact in other ways. By being open and honest about their environmental efforts and working to do better, they're making the solid connection with customers that successful co-creation relies on.
Co-creation is something we're already seeing in many markets. Nike has had great success connecting with customers with their "build your own shoes" application, selling over $100 million and it looks to be the next big trend. Dell builds computers using co-creation, and when you customize your Starbuck's drink, you are co-creating there as well. You are co-creating your phone when you customize it with apps you add rather than making do with whatever functions the phone had when it came out of the box. Zazzle and CafePress are seeing a huge surge in activity by plugging successfully into the drive to do your own thing by creating your own t-shirts, mugs, and other goods.
Solosso and all of these other co-creating companies are tapping into a huge pent-up demand to take back the control of what they buy, to no longer be passive consumers but active creators. Reaching out to people this way shows that your business values them. And if you value them, they will value you.
Glenn Croston is the author of "75 Green Businesses" and "Starting Green", and the founder of Starting Up Green, helping businesses to go green and grow with green.