Is User-Generated Sportswear the Future?

One company's gamble: crowd-sourcing apparel design


The launch of a new sportswear line is not usually a newsworthy event. But then again, not every sportswear company is ipso facto newsworthy.

Tribesports, an online sporting community with nearly 200,000 users, officially launched its online apparel store today with the help of a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign. The twist: unlike other manufacturers, Tribesports crowd-sourced design specs directly from its community. Everything from the color, fit and ventilation, to anti-chafe seams, anti-microbial fabric and reflective trim came from user input, according to a company press release.

“Our launch range has been developed using training data and input from our global community," said Tribesports president Jenna Anians. "Their design preferences and technical requirements teamed with the knowledge and experience of our team of industry leading designers and manufacturers has allowed us to produce a performance sportswear range that meets the needs of sportspeople everywhere."

What more, the U.K.-based company is spurning traditional models of distribution and promotion. Instead of selling through layers of middlemen, which would normally include distributors and retail stores, Tribesports is only selling its wares through its online store. It’s also forgoing the usual advertising and sponsorship of athletes, instead opting for promotion through its online network and social media. The net result, claims Tribesports, is performance wear that’s 40 percent cheaper than that of the major brands.

Tribesports is not the only company in the active/outdoor space to experiment with online-only retail. Outdoor gear maker GoLite pioneered a similar model in 2012 when it went direct-to-consumer only and slashed its prices in half.

The direct-to-consumer route is not an easy one. As the New York Times reported earlier this year, a crop of new apparel makers have tried this route, only to discover the difficulty of establishing a national brand without the help of in-store marketing. Tribesports seems poised to overcome some of these challenges thanks to its built-in consumer base.

But whether or not this experiment is able to sustain itself past the trial run—and whether Tribesports users like their own creations—we’ll have to wait and see.


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