Ralph Lauren is adding a new twist to the customization experience.Lauren entered the customization game in 2000 when it offered personalized Polo shirts online, where customers could choose the color of their pony and put their names on the back of the shirt. It followed with monogramming; customizable Oxford shirts, polo shirts and blazers, and personalized Polo shirts at the U.S. Open — all a highly successful line of business for Lauren. Now for holiday, it’s offering create-your-own crewneck sweaters.Beginning Thursday, Lauren will launch a digital-first, on-demand customization experience, allowing consumers to create their own Custom Crewneck Sweater. The women’s and men’s sweaters will retail for $198.Working with a luxury merino wool sweater, shoppers can dream up their own designs. Options include adding stripes, changing the color of a sleeve or cuffs, or adding initials, a meaningful year, or a favorite phrase on the front or back, in fonts including Varsity Gothic, and a never-before offered Letterman theme, inspired by the Polo P-Wing logo. The sweaters are then knit to order and will ship within two weeks — in time for the holidays.The program will be offered both digitally and in-store. The Custom Shop is located in Ralph Lauren’s 9,880-square-foot Prince Street store in New York. Besides the customizable sweaters, The Custom Shop offers direct-to-garment printing, personalized embroidery and a patch bar for women, men and children. Patches can be put on any Ralph Lauren item that it can easily attach to.Online, customers can create their own crewneck sweaters, starting Thursday at Ralph Lauren.com/Custom and in all Ralph Lauren stores in the U.S. through the use of a tablet. All sweaters will ship complimentary in a signature gift box.“On-demand manufacturing and consumer customization have the potential to change the face of retail in new and inspiring ways. We are excited to bring our customers on this experiential retail journey with us as we lead into the future,” said David Lauren, chief innovation officer at Ralph Lauren. The company’s move into on-demand manufacturing has both immediate and future benefits, such as reducing product inventory and product waste, eliminating the need for markdowns and allowing for rapid fulfillment and agility in meeting consumer desires and taste. “We don’t have to produce the sweater in advance anymore. We can just make the sweater on demand, which is very efficient and saves us a lot of money,” said Lauren.Asked if there will be a censor to prevent bad language from being embroidered on the sweaters, Lauren said there be “a tasteful checker” before the order is completed.Lauren said the 109 Prince Street store started as a pop-up concept. “We’re very confident it’s going to work, and now we’re looking at how to roll these out around the world,” he said. They are also offering Ralph Lauren coffee at the Prince Street store. Lauren said that along with Patrice Louvet, the new chief executive officer of Lauren, they’re identifying stores that they want to add new energy to. “We’re working on stores all around the world to refresh them. I think people are starting to see real growth in sales, starting last September. Customization is just one avenue that’s buzzing in the industry that we led, and we’re going to lead it again,” said Lauren.“The goal is to constantly look for new ways to do it,” he said. The company put the machines in the Prince Street store so there’s some theater to it. He said they will have another launch with the Winter Olympics. “Every month or two we’re going to evolve this concept innovation shop,” he said.Lauren’s customization efforts have been gaining momentum. As an official sponsor of the U.S. Open Tennis Championships, the company offered this past summer customizable printed graphics on its mesh Polo shirts for men, women and children’s exclusively on-site at the Polo Ralph Lauren Shops at the U.S. Open. Customers were able to personalize Polo’s signature Polo shirt with a range of specially designed graphic prints, including the Polo Bear outfitted in the official ball person uniform; oversize, crossed tennis rackets and other tennis-themed emblems. Customers could customize the designs with their name or initials, creating a personalized souvenir to take home that day. Lauren said there were lines throughout the two-week period to order customizable shirts.Last year, Lauren’s London flagship store at 169 Regent Street began offering customers the opportunity to design their own version of the classic Polo shirt, an Oxford shirt or a blazer in store. The London store was the first Lauren store in the world to offer this kind of service. In addition to choosing the shirt’s color, customers could select from 24 different international flags, as well as seven different traditional-style crests and a range of artwork including the Polo pony, Polo bears and dogs. On the back of the Polo shirts, customers were offered the option of adding a name of up to 10 letters and monogrammed initials. All designs were created first on the iPad so customers could see what it looked like before placing an order.
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