Companies offer clothing you can truly call your own

Fashion: In an age of mass marketing, customization emerges for everything from pants to Barbie dolls.

June 18, 2000|By Greg Morago | Greg Morago,HARTFORD COURANT

It's one of sitcom's most predictable conceits: Two women, each determined to be the belle of the ball, arrive at the same soiree wearing the exact same dress. As hilariously injurious to Felicity as it would be to Lucy.

And yet in a world where there's a Gap on every corner, the probability of dressing like your neighbor or co-worker is awfully high. Mass marketing and global branding have brought us closer to a universal uniform. Just like the cars we drive and the homes we live in (the SUVification and Ikea-ization of our lifestyles), fashion, once the divining rod of individuality, has steadily become an alarmingly homogenous thing.

No wonder that the Me-minded consumer is demanding apparel and accessories that nobody else has. Forget about being the only person on your block to have something new and nifty. Why not try being the only person on the planet with that something special?

Customization is the new buzzword in fashion retailing and e-tailing. From such giants as Levi's to small, exclusive parfumiers, businesses are scurrying to provide customized, personalized products. Consumers screaming "me" or crying "my way or the highway" are now getting exactly what they want.

"Customization addresses the need for individuality," said Tom Julian, fashion and trend analyst for Fallon McElligott advertising. "It's the expression of oneself vs. the uniformity of the past. We are a multidimensional population, and we seek experiences and products that have our stamp, our seal as part of the look."

Your own stamp is the new status symbol. You don't have to settle for a Ralph Lauren when you could have an original (insert your name here).

At, an e-commerce site that provides custom-made consumer products, you can get shoes, shirts, tennis racquets, golf clubs, mountain bikes and even personalized Barbie dolls made just for you. Brooks Brothers and Levi's are offering machine-customized clothing. On, you can build your own NIKEiD sneakers complete with personalization on the heel. Creed, the perfume maker that Audrey Hepburn and JFK turned to, will now help you create a scent just for you (and promises it won't reproduce or copy it for five years). Custom-made cosmetics and beauty products, like those offered by and, are the latest beauty rage. And Procter & Gamble is working on customized coffee.

"The me decade lives," said Danny Kraus, marketing and communications manager for Levi's. "But what's encouraging to me is that people are expressing themselves in different ways. The individuality is fascinating and amazing. People are not the same."

Nor do they want to be. Which explains the remarkable success of the Levi's Original Spin program, which uses computer technology to help customers build their own jeans, selecting sizes, cuts, colors and fabrications that yield almost limitless variations on the classic 5-pocket. In two to three weeks, your jeans are mailed to you, complete with an individual bar code inside each pair of jeans that allows you to reorder without being remeasured. At only $45 to $55, the custom jeans are less expensive than designer jeans. The program is available at 13 locations nationwide.

Why customized jeans? "More than ever, people want to express their individuality in their own special way," Kraus said. "With these jeans, no one is going to have the same pair."

The Gap doesn't come near to matching Levi's efforts at ultra personalization, but even that mammoth retailer is getting the message that individuality lives. Recently, it announced an expanded selection of jeans and khakis available through Using the search tool pants at, customers can find an enhanced assortment of pants not available in regular stores. Men have more than 125 size options, with waist sizes from 28 to 46 inches and inseams from 28 to 36 inches. Women have 50 size possibilities within the 0 to 16 range. The sizes can be ordered online, in a store or by calling 800-GAPSTYLE.

"It's a natural extension of the brand," said Gap spokeswoman Anna Lonegran. "We want to do everything we can to get our customers the perfect pair of pants."

Customization is the drive behind, which has formed partnerships with leading consumer brands to offer customized products from men's and women's apparel and accessories to sports equipment and gifts.

"There's always going to be room for mass-produced products. But consumers, especially with the good economy, are looking for things that are special and personal," said Bryan VanGorder, spokesman for "The reaction we've gotten has been very positive. There's definitely a market for customized products."

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