For a long time,CafePress was the major player in customized product creation on the Internet. Slowly other sites sprang up, likeZazzle,Skreened,StickerGiant,Lulu, and many more. Many of these options are novelty one-offs, though, and you’re paying for the customization, not the craftsmanship, of the product. But the success of these somewhat kitschy sites have revealed a real hunger in consumers for customized,personalized products, and a new wave of entrepreneur is capitalizing on this trend to bring customization tochocolate,men’s dress shirts, and a whole lot more.
I’ve been exchanging emails with a number of these entrepreneurs about their products, asking them all the same questions: how and why? All of them are building something that someone wants: not a one of these folks is trying to create a market where no demand exists. Many of them are also trying hard to democratize the entire purchasing process, and working to undo the homogenization of mass-produced products.
Think for a moment how subtle customization is a part of your every day life. Movies on demand at Netflix allow you to watch what you want to watch, not what the programming director at some cable channel feels like airing. You can put together specific playlists of only songs you actually want to hear, instead of what the radio broadcasts. You can order that Big Mac without onions, and get a shake instead of a soda with your value meal. Your computer is customized, your iPod is the color you want it and connected to the headphones you like the best, and on and on. How many of your decisions every day are the result of your specific decision to customize the things around you? And yet, you buy your clothes off a rack…