Right now, wearables are in their Wild West phase, with designers and manufacturers flooding the market with a slew of offerings, not always with the most stylish—or practical—results. Instead of trying to convince customers to buy wearables they may not find appealing, online clothing retailer Betabrand turns to them for design concepts, only producing the pieces that generate the strongest interest.
As the CEO of the company often comments, Betabrand is the Quirky or Kickstarter of clothes. Through its Think Tank, it crowdsources design ideas and concepts from the public. Then it allows people to vote for their favorite ideas, with Betabrand selecting the most popular ones to become prototypes for actual designs the company will sell. Once it picks a prototype, after some refinement by in-house designers, the company tasks its sewing team with creating the piece. Next comes a crowdfunding phase where, if Betabrand sells a certain amount of copies, it will start producing the prototype on a larger scale.
“Ultimately as a business it’s smart to product the things that people are really into and not sorta into,” says Betabrand CEO Chris Lindland. It makes sense, and it’s surprising more companies haven’t thought of it sooner, regardless of what they sell.
“Quirky” would also describe the clothing Betabrand sells, with many of the pieces falling into the wearables category. One of the latest offerings is the Flashback collection, comprising a hoodie, hat, scarf and suit dreamed up by the DJ Chris Holmes that is made from the same type of reflective material found on the sides of tennis shoes and safety equipment. The clothing’s shine also comes from glass nanospheres attached to the fabric, reflecting any light. When someone dons a piece from the collection, it fades out their features, giving them an almost invisible appearance. This aspect may turn out to be appealing to celebrities when trying to avoid the paparazzi.
The Flashback collection proved wildly popular, garnering 550 votes on the Think Tank site soon after Holmes introduced it. It moved through the prototype and crowdfunding stages quickly, and is now for sale on Betabrand’s website. It joins such other unique, crowdsourced designs as yoga pants that are safe for work, hoodies that look like executive-suite jackets, bike-to-office wear, and other pieces. The designers get 10 percent of the profits from all sales of their concepts, while Betabrand takes care of all aspects of manufacturing and marketing.
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