RYZwear.com: Applying the Threadless Concept to Footwear

we’ve set out to create a people’s brand – a community of designers,
sneakerheads and anyone that cares enough about art, fashion or sneakers to
speak up. Together we’ll create sneakers that are designed and chosen, not by
some big, faceless corporation, but by you.

Think of RYZ
as a stage for designers to showcase their creativity and a forum for people to
define what great sneaker design means. In other words, we just make
comfortable sneakers – the rest is up to you.“

This is how Rob Langstaff announced his new
business just one month ago, ryzwear.com The hope of RYZ is to become the Threadless
of footwear
, connecting people who design custom sneakers with those that
vote on the designs and purchase. I am wondering since long what could be good fields
where the extremely profitable Threadless idea can be applied to, and footwear
could be one option.

Rob Langstaff is not an
outsider of the sneaker world. The former
Adidas America Inc. president
has turned the business model of its former employer
upside down, Instead of assigning design jobs to inhouse designers, he is relying
on online clusters of consumers to design products and figure out which ones to
sell. „In Ryz’s case, it’s MySpace meets „American Idol,“ with
footwear as the unit of expression“, as an online report called the business model.

„The corporate design
team is limited by its walls,“ Langstaff is quoted in the news report,
„The corporation shouldn’t be dictating what the consumer wears. The
consumers should.“

This is how RYZ works:

  • Each month, Ryz will post a
    different standardized shoe silhouette on its Web site (a high-top shoe and a
    low-top shoe were the first two). Users can download the template and, using
    Adobe Photoshop, illustrate or add images across the shoe.

  • Site visitors can rate and
    comment on submissions. After a month, a winner will be declared and Ryz will
    order a run of the winning design — 100 pairs to start and 1,000 pairs by next
    — from a contract manufacturer in China.

  • The winning designer will
    get $1000 for the start, plus royalties of $1/piece on ongoing sales, and get their
    profiles attached to each pair and a listing in Ryzwear.com’s Hall of Fame.

  • Two weeks after the contest
    ends, Ryz will sell the winning shoes on the Web and, for now, in Xebio Co., a leading Japanese
    sporting-goods retailer that owns a stake in Ryz. The retail price: $75 to $90
    a pair

By 2012, Langstaff hopes to
allow users to design the entire shoe, from the shape of the sole to the shape
of the eyestay. He also hopes to get into athletic wear. He expects to rely on
customers to do most of his marketing.

Rob Langstaff is putting $4
million into his shoe startup, saying there is too great a disconnect between
businesses and consumers. He expects to do $40 million in revenue by 2012
(which would be about half the time of Threadless‘ way to scale, but could work
given his larger experience in the market and the higher price tags).

Interestingly, among some
of the people helping Langstaff to set to the business is Mikal Peveto, a former footwear executive who started
design-your-own shoe site Customatix
in 2000. In case you have followed mass customization since its beginning, you should
know Customatix. The company got much attention and had one of the best online
configurators of its time. But it also did offer too much of a good thing,
giving users really zillions of choices at a time when consumers were not
really educated in mass customization configurators.

But Peveto believes Ryzwear
can succeed where Customatix failed because consumers today are more comfortable
interacting and purchasing online from less-established companies.  „Our timing wasn’t great. We couldn’t get
people to buy because they didn’t trust the brand,“ Peveto said. „Now
is a completely different time than in 2000 because there are so many different
brands that are valid.“

So I am curious to see whether
Mikal Peveto and Rob Langstaff’s predictions come true. They took some serious
modifications of adopting the Threadless models for their industry. But
Threadless‘ customers are as much purchasing the membership in a club, a
community, by purchasing t-shirts frequently at $15 a pop. I am not quite sure that
this will work with $90 sneakers.

To develop however a great (and
profitable) underground line of sneakers with a great story, their approach may
work will. T
hey may want to learn from Muji, the
Japanese’s retailer, and its approach to the model. Muji is not just
letting customers vote on new designs, but also asks them to make a
small cash payment on the item they really want to have in stores.
Thus, they can much better predict what
people will purchase later. Such an approach also could benefit RYZ as
it would connect the voting process closer with purchasing.


A good article in Oregonlive told me first about RYZ

recent article in the
San Francisco Chronicle on crowdsourcing and user idea
competitions is featuring RYZ, Threadless, and a number of other companies.

My previous
reports about the CEC User Co-Design Competitionand Open Source Footwear.

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.