Not long ago we reported about OpenRunway, a mass customization venture enabling customers to personalize women's shoes and handbags.
For those (female) readers who can not get enough of customized bags, here is another very neat company from Germany: Project OONA.
Project OONA features a nicely done configurator which lets you customize most aspects of your bag, after selecting one from a number of base models.
Maru Winnacker, CEO of Project OONA, kindly agreed to give us some insight into the venture, what makes it different and how she sees the future of mass customization.
FTP: Maru, can you tell a bit more about Project OONA? What exactly are you offering?
MW: Project OONA is a brand development company offering customization of handbags online. On our website customers will be able to customize their handbag. They start out with a design from our collection and then choose from different types of colors, linings, materials, etc.
FTP: Personalized (Hand-)Bags are not exactly a new idea. What sets your company apart from the competition in this field?
MW: I agree that "personalization", i.e. the imprint of names or signatures, of fashion items has been around for quite some time. However, offers are rare, seldom integrated and mostly provided by high margin luxury brands. One prominent example is "Mon Monogram" by Louis Vuitton.
However, "customization" as a means of giving customers full access to the production decision is a new phenomenon. The production and distribution processes involved are quite complex and we are experiencing a steep learning curve. There is only a small group of competitors online, all of which for less than 24 months and non supported by a global player.
We researched all available offers online. However, these websites target either a very young audience or the mass market. We strongly believe that consumers deserve a recognizable brand to engage with: A logo, a specific style, excellent materials and perfect quality. That's how we try to distinguish ourselves. We are also targeting a premium customer segment focusing on internationally traveled business women who have an elaborate sense of value.
FTP: So far you are offering bags of different kinds (including iPad cases) from fine leather. Are there any plans to expand your business in the foreseeable future? Do you plan on diversifying your portfolio?
MW: Yes, of course! We started with handbags and fine leather accessories. We will quickly introduce additional handbag styles and materials. In the medium term new business segments (e.g. travel bags) will be added. In the long run, you will certainly see us experimenting with other customizable fashion categories.
FTP: What are your current markets? Do you offer exclusively for German customers or is Project OONA a world wide venture?
MW: As mentioned, Project OONA has an international claim. We started our service in Austria and Germany due to our local home field advantage. We will soon launch our English website and start shipping within Europe.
FTP: Where do you see your venture five years from now?
MW: Five years from now is a long time. I hope to be selling worldwide by then, with 2 – 3 more fashion product categories.
FTP: Do you think that mass customization in general is a long-lasting new paradigm that will change the face of retail significantly? Or is it just another trend?
MW: If there has been a paradigm shift towards mass customization it has happened years ago! The automotive industry has been adapting to this for years. The fashion industry will need to adapt quickly due to increasing customer demands as well as complete product and product value transparency. There are a myriad of innovative experiments currently online (e.g. virtual reality measuring, affiliate marketing etc.) that should leave not customer demand unfulfilled. Why should a customer shop around when she can design her fashion item herself? It is easy to get hooked to this kind of luxury!
So yes! I strongly believe that mass customization in the fashion industry is here to stay. It offers huge potential both online and offline. It brings customers and retail closer together. And I also believe that the current divided on- and offline retail chains will merge into one channel soon. Customers should be able to choose online and pick up offline and vice versa.
FTP: Are you currently recruiting or looking for partners? Who would you want to work with if given the choice?
MW: Currently we are looking for more software engineers. Anyone interested?
FTP: Thank you very much for this interesting interview! Im looking forward to see your venture grow and become an established brand on its market.