Keds & Zazzle Are Bringing Footwear Customization to a New Dimension

Keds-at-zazzle(updated – Aug 13, 2008) Customizing footwear has been a long theme in this blog. RYZwear recently offered a fresh approach to this (see my report), and now the evolution of custom footwear continued one more step. US shoe brand Keds just launched its new custom footwear offering, called While looking at the first glimpse like a copy of NikeID or Timberland's Custom, a closer look on the site convinced me that Keds went much further.

Keds is an iconic US brand that actually invented the term ‘sneaker’. Since 1916, Keds is offering its classic champion sneaker and a large variety of other styles. Keds is a subsidiary of the Stride Rite Corporation, which again is a unit of Collective Brands, Inc.. Collective Brands is the owner of Payless ShoeSource, a more than 4,500-store retail chain in footwear, and thus one of the very big guys in the international footwear market.

With, they created a mass customization offering that goes far beyond the present state of the art in this industry. Their advancements are with regard to two dimensions:

First, users can upload any design or picture on their shoe. So it is not just picking color options for pre-defined components of a shoe, but really getting what you want. Shoes are manufactured with an advanced digital printing technology that offers great variety in high quality. The customized sneakers are produced in China within 24 to 48 hours, and will be received by consumers within one to two weeks, depending upon the shipping method selected.


Secondly, and more interesting, Keds is one of the best examples of a new trend in mass customization: Keds actually did not build any mass customization operation of its own, but outsourced most of the process to mass customization intermediary Zazzle. Keds Studio is one of the finest examples for the benefits of the new MC infrastructure providers.

In an e-mail, Gregg Poulin, who initiated and implemented the Keds mass customization program as the e-commerce director at Keds, described how this collaboration worked (Gregg has left Keds to become CEO of
When Keds' management decided to profit from the mass customization trend, Gregg had to face a tough challenge:

"Essentially I had no budget and very little partnership dollars to create a custom shoe program that as you know can cost millions of dollars. In order to complete the vision I needed to be creative and find partners."

While browsing the web looking for a solution, he found my blog and a report on Confego, the company of Brennan Mulligan that later became part of Zazzle:


[solution] I found through your writings is Confego. They were the second key to the solution. I had the brand, they had the process/systems. Now I needed the community, which is where fit in."

With this partnership, Keds has beaten Adidas, Nike, Puma, Timberlands and the other large players in the industry with a very elegant solution: It truly is the first 'custom' shoe program that enables people to not only design their own shoes from the ground up but also to sell their own collection to others and make a profit.
Gregg told me:

"Within 48 hours, there have been over 18,000 designs published on Zazzle. Can you imagine the dollars it would have taken an internal team to accomplish that feat? No inventory to carry, not guessing on what will sells. At $60 per pair everyone is making margins well above, including the factory!"

The configurator is executed well and has all the elements of a good mass customization configurator. It also features functionalities like sharing designs, getting inspirations, using templates, saving designs, etc. which are part of the Zazzle online experience.
For Zazzle, Keds also is a large win as they now could add an entire new category to their assortment of customizable products.
For Keds, mass customization is just seen as a continuity of what consumers used to be by their own:

"Since the launch of the Champion in 1916, consumers have been enhancing their Keds with their own personal style using markers, paints, pens and other creative tools," G. Ribatt, president and chief executive officer of The Stride Rite Corporation, Keds' parent company, is quoted in a press release.

"This growing form of expression was the inspiration for Keds Studio. Through our relationship with Zazzle, we can now offer Keds customers the opportunity to bring an uninhibited range of design options and a more professional design aesthetic to this classic shoe."

Keds Studio and its cooperation with Zazzle is a great case of what you can achieve in mass customization with creativity and little money by using the existing infrastructure of mass customization enablers. And, by the way, Zazzle does not care whether you are Keds or just an average consumer: They may not launch an entire new product line for you, but like every consumer, you can turn your creative ideas and market opportunities in your own offering (Spreadshirt or Cafepress are offering similar services).

Update Aug 13, 2008: In a mail from Zazzle, they told me that one week after the launch, more than 30,000 user-generated designs for custom shoes were created in the community.

Jeff Beaver, co-founder and chief product officer of Zazzle, reports:

“We have an incredibly diverse and talented community of designers, and had high hopes that the opportunity to create custom shoes would get them excited. We’ve simply been blown away by the response, both the volume and variety of user-generated designs have exceeded our expectations. 

Some of the most popular themes include art, music, animals and politics, but you can already find pretty much anything.  Developers are also taking advantage of the platform – within 48 hours after launch, one blogger created a Google Maps mashup so that you can get a map or satellite photo of your hometown on your new kicks.” 

By | 2018-06-14T12:54:05+00:00 August 7th, 2008|Co-creation, Co-Design Process, Design, Footwear, Sneaker|

About the Author:

Frank T. Piller is a Co-Director of the MIT Smart Customization Group at the MIT Media Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, and a chair professor of management at the Technology & Innovation Management Group of RWTH Aachen University, Germany, one of Europe’s leading institutes of technology. Before entering his recent position in Aachen, he worked at the MIT Sloan School of Management (2004-2007) and has been an associate professor of management at TUM Business School, Technische Universitaet Muenchen. Frequently quoted in The New York Times, The Economist, and Business Week, amongst others, Frank is regarded as one of the leading experts on strategies for customer-centric value creation, like mass customization, personalization, and innovation co-creation. His recent analysis of the crowdsourcing business model “Threadless” (co-authored with Susumu Ogawa), an innovative crowdsourcing business model in the fashion industry, has been elected as one of the Top-20 articles in MIT Sloan Management Review.