Shoe Individualizer Selve Wins Retail Week’s Product Innovation of the Year Award 2006

But European Footwear Manufacturers Seem Not to Care

Sherwin Onlince Configurator for Home Paint„Mass Customization rules“, the blog Exciting eCommerce recently commented on this year’s nominations for the Webby Awards 2006, the leading international award honoring excellence in web design, usability and functionality, established in 1996. Three (of five) 2006 award nomination in the important retail category go to mass customization solutions: Sport brands O´Neill and Reebok for their online sneaker configurators and to Sherwin-Williams, a really well done configurator for home paints

[Update: this site finally won teh award in this category!].

Selve wins Retail Week Award 2006But also in the offline world, mass customization is a winning strategy. Selve, the Munich and London based provider of custom women’s footwear, just won the prestigious U.K. „Product Innovation of the Year“ Award by Retail Week. This is a further recognition of the excellence and pioneering work Claudia Kieserling and her U.K. partner Karen Macintyre are doing in this industry.

Selve has been the first company offering fully customized shoes for women in an affordable price range (180-250 Euro). Launched in Germany in 2001 and in the U.K. in 2004, Selve shoes are truly made-to-order in an Italian factory. Women can select colors, style options, heel heights, and more, and of course each shoe is perfectly fitted to the exact measurements of each foot. Recently, Selve also introduced a line of men’s shoes in its Munich store.

Selve Munich ShopIt is surprising to see that not more footwear manufacturers are moving on this model. While there are several good footwear brands offering custom men’s shoes, Selve is still the only company helping women to find the perfect fit. Market research conducted by the European Community, however, has shown that the market potential for women’s custom footwear would be much larger. And with companies like Corpus-e, there are today also very affordable scanning solutions available to support 3D measurement (Corpus’s scanners are much beyond the traditional 20,000 USD price tag of a conventional foot scanner). In addition, projects like the Euroshoe or CEC-made Shoe have provided all the necessary research and technology to produce custom footwear with mass production efficiency.

Still, the industry is not really reacting on the trend (contrarily to the sports good industry, where today EVERY large brand is offering mass customization). In the last year, more small Italian and Spanish footwear manufacturer went out of business than ever before. They can’t compete with Asian manufacturers on standard shoes. But what I do not understand is that almost none of them are becoming entrepreneurs and provide mass customization capacity.

Selve and the few other existing brands are desperately looking for more reliable manufacturing capacity, their customers are waiting for days (in the London store) just to get an appointment to purchase shoes (there is no talk about price competition)! The market is there, but manufacturing seems not to care about. Due to lack of industry support, also the EuroShoe Factory is not really winning pace.

Hopefully the Retail Week Award and other recognitions will slowly change the conservative mindset of the remaining European manufacturers – before they are all dead and replaced by Asian competitors (which, by the way, are very happy to manufacturer custom products).

Full disclosure: I am on the board of directors of Corpus-e, and conducted joint contract research with Selve before.

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.