One of the most common questions I get asked when I talk about the rise of customization is, “What about furniture?” Ikea is the world’s largest furniture retailer and it’s about as un-customized as 1970’s cars (VW Bug anyone?). If customization is the future, then why is everybody-furnishes-from-the-same-catalogue-Ikea doing so well?
The answer is that the Ikea customization business actually is booming – it’s just not being offered by Ikea itself. There are dozens of companies successfully springing up around Ikea’s ecosystem, offering everything from custom door plates to fit on Ikea’s kitchen cabinets to custom slip covers and screw on feet for Ikea’s couches and chairs. It’s reminiscent of another enormously successful custom model: the multi-billion dollar industry that offers custom iPhone covers, iPad cases and MacBook carriers for Apple products… but largely doesn’t come from Apple itself.
Ikea is on record as being mostly happy with the customizers too. According to Bloomberg Luxury, Ikea’s spokesperson said that “while the trend raises some concerns about safety and product integrity, the company is pleased that others are promoting its wares.”
Want to get in on the action? Apartment Therapy has put together a useful list of 10 companies to try (including the cleverly named “Mykea”). Here it is:
• Mykea Custom skins for IKEA furniture is Mykea. The colorful graphics can be easily applied and, if you ever tire of them, just as easily removed without leaving behind any residue. While their designs originate from the Netherlands, US orders are designed and produced domestically – which means shipping is still quite reasonable ($10).
• PANYL We’ve seen a number of examples of PANYL being expertly utilized here on Apartment Therapy, including the Patchwork Dresser: A West Elm-Inspired IKEA Hack shown above. The self adhesive vinyl skins can be purchased for a specific IKEA piece or you can buy it by the foot and get really creative.
• Prettypegs Customizing IKEA furniture is about more than covering up the fabric or finish. Swedish company Prettypegs lets you dress up the base with colorful and whimsical new feet. They offer affordable shipping around the world ($24 to the US & Canada).
• Bemz This Swedish company offers even more options for recovering your IKEA upholstered pieces. While some covers can cost as much as the furniture itself, Bemz offers the widest range of print and style options.
• Knesting Slip covers for popular IKEA furniture pieces may not be a new concept but Knesting is one of the few companies who makes theirs in the States. Knesting currently offers slipcovers for EKTORP, KARLANDA, KARLSTAD, POANG and more, all made in Atlanta, Georgia.
• Comfort Works This Australian company offers slip covers for IKEA sofas and chairs, as well as curtains and custom cushions. Fabrics range from cotton and linen to velvet and leather. Custom Works ships worldwide with a $24 limit on shipping costs.
• Semihandmade Hacking IKEA pieces doesn’t stop with furniture. If you’re thinking about installing an IKEA kitchen, or even updating an existing one, Semihandmade can set you up with custom door and drawer fronts.
• Modern Crafts Based in Minneapolis, Modern Crafts gives you another option for custom cabinet doors. Wood options include walnut, bamboo and zebrawood.
Check out this great article by Linton Weeks on NPR.org about the world of customization that includes quotes from Custom Nation author Anthony Flynn. This is definitely the first customizable news article we have seen which is an amazing and creative illustration of the point. You can read it by following this link: The Customization Of You — And Everything Else
With modern technology, selling custom products is cheaper than ever before. The falling cost of custom production (thanks to the digitization of information) presents a great opportunity for small businesses. However, until recently, small manufacturers haven’t had the resources to design expensive websites to allow their customers to customize their products online.
No more. Citizen Made, backed by make-up giant L’Oreal, is now starting to allow businesses that offer custom products of any sort (from bikes to kitchen cabinets to make-up) to integrate Citizen Made’s software onto their own websites, so that consumers can design their own items online and see online pictures of their creations in real time. Say, for example, that a small business makes custom bikes. Now, it can purchase a subscription to Citizen Made and its buyers will be able to “build” their own bikes online, choosing different parts, such as wheels, frames and seats and try out a rainbow of different colors before buying. Subscriptions to Citizen Made start at $19 per month – a whole lot cheaper than the tens of thousands of dollars that it costs to build customize-feature websites from scratch.
Citizen Made isn’t the first company to launch in this space. In the past year, a handful of innovative new companies have launched with the aim of allowing small businesses to incorporate custom design software onto their websites. Only time will tell which of these companies best fills this important gap in the market.
3-D printers, the machines that promise to make custom manufacturing affordable on a mass scale, are getting so hot that they’re triggering a rush for patents. According to Heesun Wee’s article for NBC on the boom:
In the last decade, the Patent and Trademark Office has received more than 6,800 patent applications related to 3-D printing… By one estimate, the global market reached $2.2 billion last year—up 28.6 percent from 2011. “The last time I saw this kind of gold rush for patents was during the dot-com boom” of the late 1990s, said Peter Canelias, a patent attorney based in New York. (full article)
It’s no surprise that inventors and businesses are rushing to get as many patents as they can. 3-D printers enable manufacturers to produce customized items at a fraction of the cost of traditional manufacturing. This has obvious applications for companies that make things that must be customized – like prosthetic limbs.
It’s also a big benefit for companies that need to manufacture small batches of high priced items. Boeing, for example, already uses 3-D printers to manufacture 300 unique airplane parts, saving them 25 to 50 percent in costs, according to a recent Goldman Sachs research note. For more on how Boeing is putting 3-D printers into practice, check out their video on the subject:
Be sure to watch Custom Nation author Anthony Flynn on the Kris Jenner Show today where he will talk about his custom energy bar company YouBars.com. The entire episode is dedicated to customizable DIY projects!
Ask a large manufacturer about customization and it’ll tell you that consumers are demanding it more than ever. Examples are everywhere, from Nike’s custom sneakers and Burberry’s custom trench coats to Mattel’s custom Barbie Dolls and Mars’ custom M&M’s. Even Ford – the icon of 20th century mass production – is going custom, with its flagship Mustang website committed to helping consumers design their own custom cars. Today, however, custom sales are still a tiny percentage of big business because the vast majority of their machines can only do mass-production.
That’s about to change. Three-dimensional printers are fast becoming good enough to displace the mass-production assembly lines of the 20th century. General Electric is ramping up its use 3-D printers to make pieces for its jet engines, and recently acquired a machine with a build area that is large enough to print gas turbine parts. BMW is using 3D printers to make an increasingly large number of its complex car engine parts. Meanwhile, the tech geniuses at Xerox’s PARC research facility are inventing nanotechnology “chiplets” that could pave the way for a world filled with desktop-sized manufacturing plants.
The skill of 3-D printers to deliver high-quality products is not in doubt: today’s 3-D printers are so good that manufacturers already use them routinely for making engineering prototypes and pricey custom items. They make hearing aids customized for the exact shape of the user’s ear, gearboxes custom-designed for racing cars and replacement hips custom-built to fit the wearer’s body. On top of that, dozens of avant-garde companies, including i.materialise, Shapeways, Ponoko and Polyvore, use 3-D printers for all their standard production of unique small-run goods, like business card holders and tables.
There are two things, though, that have held 3-D printing back from expanding further: cost and controversy. Conventional manufacturing is still cheaper — metal stamping to make auto parts costs less than 3-D printing them, and it utilizes simpler materials than 3-D printers’ liquids and powders. 3-D printing has also stirred controversy over tricky issues like intellectual property ownership and the danger that criminals could use 3-D printers to make guns. New technology and new government controls always have to evolve together.
But, with hundreds of heavyweight manufacturers and tech companies innovating, costs are falling rapidly, regulatory conversations are gaining speed, and the uses for 3-D printers are expanding. In other words, we’re on the brink of a tipping point, and soon 3-D printers will become the norm in manufacturing. Once this happens, companies will be able to offer customization like never before. That is because, with 3-D printers, it’s nearly as cheap to create customized items as it is to create identical ones, so manufacturers will be able to offer customized goods at prices competitive with mass-production.
This will revolutionize consumerism by making it possible for individual consumers to receive goods that are made to suit their own particular needs, even if those needs are completely one-of-a-kind. Take, for example, a child who needs a wheelchair that fits his precise size and disability. In the past, custom goods like that were only available to the ultra-rich. But when 3-D printing is the manufacturing norm, a custom wheelchair will be able to be made for around the same cost as a mass-produced one today. The same would hold true for all consumer goods – from hubcaps to skinny jeans.
In the same way that the invention of the printing press in the middle of the last millennium democratized knowledge by making it possible for people outside of the elite to get books, 3-D printers promise to democratize innovation for this millennium. It will no longer simply be the rich and corporate elite who will be able to decide which inventions and products get made. In this century, individuals will be able to commission custom products to meet their unique needs affordably, as companies will be able to produce one-of-a-kind goods for mass-production style prices.
In the world of high-end fashion brands, time was consumers wanted to emblazon themselves with designer labels. No more. Now, the hippest thing in haute couture is for consumers to put their own custom touches on top of the famous designer labels. Louis Vuitton has a whole line called “Mon Monogram” that allows consumers to put their own initials in place of the classic “LV” stamp. Likewise, Burberry, the famous British coat designer, now encourages consumers to design their own trench coats on their website.
The latest addition to this consumer+designer trend comes in the form of legendary sunglasses brand Ray-Ban, which has just launched a “Remix” line. Ray-Ban Remix invites consumers to design their own sunglasses by custom mixing sunglasses’ styles, frames and lens colors, and then personalize the shades with a custom engraving at the temples, where the famous “Ray-Ban” logo usually stands alone.
Remix is currently on sale in overseas markets, including the UK (see photo), and is expected to hit the US market in time for next summer.
Swell, a smartphone app that customizes talk radio content to listeners’ specific tastes, launches today. The app, which aims to do for spoken-word radio what Pandora did for music radio, aggregates news and opinion pieces from high-quality content producers like NPR, the BBC, ABC, Comedy Central and Ted Talks and then automatically plays clips based on users’ preferences.
According to Anthony Ha’s TechCrunch article: “[Swell] users can tell the app that they’re currently looking for content around a certain topic, such as technology, and they can bookmark programs for listening later …There’s also a WiFi-only mode, where you download the content when you’re on WiFi and then listen while offline, which could be appealing for people who want to go easy on their data plans or who don’t have reliable cell signal during their commutes (like if they take the subway).”
Here’s Swell’s advert on why it’s going to be the next big thing:
Great video about how new small job markets will start popping up because of technology resulting in the customization of job markets.