This London-based fashion tech startup has recently launched a personalized fashion-based search engine, that is highly customized for each user. We caught up with Robin Wong, Custom’s co-founder and Head of Product, to tell us more.
Custom is a personalized search engine for people who like to buy fashion online. Our starting point is the individual–we aim to return items that are relevant only to the specific user, reflecting their tastes, style and brand preferences. Users can search across almost half a million items of clothing, across more than 4,000 brands, and find what they’re looking for available in their size, location and style in the fewest clicks possible. The more brands and products users ‘like’ or discard as they search, the more the system learns about their style and can make better suggestions.
Ultimately, our aim is to make Custom the starting point of every online fashion shopping journey by creating a shop just for the individual user that always has their favorite brands, everything fits and the rails reflect who they are.
What was the inspiration behind starting Custom?
My reasons for founding Custom stemmed from my frustrated efforts to try and track down items of clothing on the internet. I tend to go through phases of seeing something I like the look of – whether that’s online or offline and then setting myself the challenge of trying to track it down. Over the years, despite becoming quite adept at navigating my way through a complex mix of curation sites like Pinterest, Tumblr and Flipboard, and filtering through various online retailers, it struck me that when it came to looking for fashion for myself, the whole process was inefficient, often fruitless and quite frustrating. [Editor’s note: It’s crazy how hard it can be to find something that’s been featured in an ad!]
I spent a lot of time doing something for not much actual payoff. When Max, our CEO, started talking to me at about his issues with online shopping one day at Google, I realized we had a common interest. So Max and I got talking about how we could improve the overall experience and what we could do with the smart use of technology to try and solve the problem.
What sets Custom apart from other fashion tech companies in the space?
If there’s one industry that should be getting personalization right, it’s fashion, yet it’s rarely been delivered on. Most online fashion retailers take a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach–it doesn’t matter who searches for something, you get the same answer regardless of your tastes. Even companies that provide a bespoke service tend to put people in large, grouped categories, or push products that make less sense for each person, but that earn a company higher margins.
Custom is different because we have flipped this model on its head, putting the person first, and making the technology learn from their searches–specifically what they like, dislike and click on. By combining this knowledge of each individual’s preferences with their search query, we’re able to provide much more relevant results in the first instance, and so we can give people better, simpler choices.
What has been the hardest obstacle for you in creating Custom? What has been your favorite part?
I think the hardest thing to do with building any sophisticated technology is to keep the experience simple. Of course we’re constantly analyzing often-unstructured data from hundreds of sources, but our starting point in this whole process has been people. Making sure the experience is simple and intuitive has been a guiding principle of everything we’ve done and what technology we’ve decided to build. Throughout the last year, we’ve been in constant touch with our customers to ensure the experience is working for them. We’ve worked hard to build a magazine-style site where visuals play a central role and the experience is decluttered.
The highlight so far has been all the amazing feedback we’ve been getting from people who have tried (and now love) Custom. Possibly my favourite moment was when my wife told me that “she could never go back to her old way of shopping,” which despite coming from a biased source, was true. We had genuinely succeeded in resolving a pain point for her when she wanted to find clothes online.
What can we expect from Custom in the future?
Plenty! We are planning to hire more developers to build out Custom, like offering a personal discovery feed, improved search functionality and of course, adding more global retailers and currency conversion. We know that features like finding out what’s new, and what’s on sale are important, but again, the key here is relevance. We often talk about having a magazine-like feel, but we want every part of that magazine to be completely relevant to users and what they’re looking or browsing for.
What are your favorite brands (or styles) of the moment?
Looking through my list of brands in Custom, I can divide my favorites into three groups: what I can afford to buy, what I’m considering and can just afford, and what I’d have to rob a bank to even look at. I have staples from regular household brand names like most people. Then I have great British brands like Folk and Albam, and I love US brands like J.Crew. I’ve recently spotted Levi’s Commuter range doing some interesting modern takes on Levi’s classics. There’s also a pair of shoes I spotted Nick Wooster talking about from Thom Browne that I have on my list, but I’m not sure I can quite stretch to them yet.
To learn more about Custom check out their website here.
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