Online clothing retailer ModCloth recently rolled out their Retro Honor Roll Collection, inspired by creations submitted by their community and supported by designs from the ModCloth co-founder. In terms of how I view crowdsourcing, I’m at a bit of an impasse in reacting to this development. Is fashion the sort of thing that can, or should, be crowdsourced?
The Argument in Favor
We’ve seen the success of crowdsourced clothing with our own eyes. I’m sure many of you are already familiar with Threadless, the community-inspired t-shirt outlet that some might say led the initial charge in crowdsourced fashion designs. In Threadless, we find a company that has leveraged an excellent community and a winning business model to make oodles (non-scientific term) of cash and some really exceptionally popular shirts. Additionally, their service often gives a leg-up to amateur designers, who may find stardom after their design gets approved.
ModCloth’s campaign also turned out very successful, with as much as 40% of the articles in stock selling out in the first day alone. Looking at the designs, one can’t help but offer a nod of approval; they don’t look like they were made by a committee of amateurs, but instead like any other professionally designed piece of apparel. In these examples, we see that crowdsourced clothing doesn’t have to be a disaster.
On the Other Hand…
When I laid out what makes some crowdsourcing efforts successful, I made it a point to state that some industries are doomed from the start if they try to crowdsource because their areas of interest are too broad. Fashion dangerously straddles this line; not everyone is a fashionista, but the majority of people wear clothes and have some sort of opinion on them. In terms of crowdsourcing, this is a dangerous mix, since the design experts are the minority and the clothes-wearers are (for the most part) ignorant of what makes up “good fashion”. Make your contest too public, and you get swarms of people who think it would be a really great idea to have a plaid-and-polka-dot suit. Make it too private, and it may as well not exist.
Granted, this conundrum is not limited to the world of fashion, but it’s a little more tangible since (as I mentioned) the wearing of clothes is one thing that binds many of us together. Not only is it ubiquitous, but important; a large-scale shift in fashion can very well define an era. When something like this deeply affects everyone involved, crowdsourcing it could make people nervous. Think about it this way; would you want people crowdsourcing the quality of the air you breathe? The question of “what if they’re wrong?” looms large, and even a small chance of failure is enough to send many people in the opposite direction.
The Battle For Chic
Regardless of my feelings on the subject, crowdsourced fashion is here to stay. As with practically any other effort that asks for help from a crowd, said crowd is the main determinant of the campaign’s success. If you’re the type of person who’s fashion-minded, the best possible thing for you to do would be to sign up for as many of these sites as possible and lend them your good taste.
But if you’re like me, and your idea of fashion is “as long as my belt sorta matches my shoes, I’m home free”… well, maybe leave the fashion to the experts.