Re-Post: I have republished these articles to make them better accessible for search on the blog. This article has been published first in the Newsletter No. 1/2004.
The last mass customization year (2003) ended with an announcement that I already have predicted for much longer: Levi Strauss closed its Original Spin program. Original Spin was emerging in 1997 from the „Personal Pair“, the first mass customization program of Levi Strauss originating in 1994. But why did Levi closed its MC operations, being in the field for such a long time, earning quite a high reputation, and being quoted in numerous studies as the textbook example of MC (to say it correctly: on the company’s web site, it just says that the MC program is being refurnished and just stopped for a while; however, my feeling is that this break is for rather long).
I just can speculate what were the reasons behind the present stop of the program (a Levi representative was not available for comment for this newsletter). In my presentation on the „myths of mass customization“ (see also the related case study in Piller/Stotko 2003) I name the following reasons: One major factor has nothing to do with mass customization in particular but the bad business situation of Levi Strauss in general. If the premier business struggles, companies are going back to their core and this is mass (variant) production in the case of Levi Strauss. Also, due to cost cutting efforts, the last US factory was finally closed, and this was exactly the plant that was producing the customized jeans.
From a mass customization perspective, the Original Spin was over all the years, in my opinion, just a marketing and PR gimmick. As such, it worked very well, generating literally 100s of media reports. However, no concept can sustain just as a gimmick.
But the major reason why the project never took off is from my perspective that it never was a real business model. In an earlier newsletter (www.mass-customization.de/ news/news03_02.htm#editorial) I commented on the three generations of mass customization. Levi Strauss always stayed on the first level. The concept was only based on the availability of flexible manufacturing technology. Levi managed neither to turn the customized product into a customized relationship with its customers (during all its existence, re-orders were never easily possible, and as an active customer myself I never got any request for feedback by the company) nor to use the knowledge from the individual orders for customer knowledge management.
Also, the purchasing experience was in most of the stores rather not a special experience and did not address the high emotional content and complexity (from a customer’s eye) of the customized garments. During all the years and my visits at Levi Strauss I never got the feeling that they wanted to make it real and big at any time. However, I strongly wish that Levi will have the courage to re-introduce a new generation of mass customization in the near future. Because one thing was always very obvious: consumers loved Original Spin — most comments the company got were very positive or even enthusiastic.