Mass Custom Style Brands Gemvara and J. Hilburn Expand

A custom ring from Gemvara

Two custom style brands announced expansion plans today, indicating that mass customization is finding success with investors and customers.

Gemvara, a website that offers customizable jewelry settings with a myriad of stones and different metals, raised a third round of funding worth $15 million from European venture capital firm Balderton Capital. That brings their grand total raised to $26 million since their 2008 founding. {VentureBeat} The new financing round will be used to add merchandise options, make new hires and continue improving their online configuration tool (which we find to be pretty good in its current state).

J. Hilburn, founded in 2007, has raised $7.25 million and competes in the popular custom-made men’s shirt category (previous coverage of custom shirt makers ProperCloth and World of Alfa here). They didn’t receive any additional funding today, but did announce plans to expand into e-commerce after three years. {TechCrunch}

While the natural first reaction to the news is “it took them three years?”, what’s interesting is the fact that J. Hilburn is on track to do $20 million in revenue this year. Driven largely by an Avon lady-like team of “style advisors” who take the bespoke model back to its roots by making in-home or in-office appointments with clients to take measurements and show fabric swatches.

Last year, the by-appointment model resulted in sales of 60,000 shirts, sweaters, pants and other menswear items. J. Hilburn will now use e-commerce to make it more convenient for existing customers to order new items. There will also be ready to wear items available for anyone who hasn’t been measured.

Particularly in the case of J. Hilburn, this is the direction more luxury brands need to move in. High income shoppers aren’t a monolithic group, but by and large one characteristic that they share is being busy. Sure, there are some people who have the luxury of time and money, but for the many people whose money comes as a result of sacrificing large quantities of time convenience is key.

They may not have time for an in store experience, and the internet remains one of the best tools to overcome that. In-home and in-office measurement options are a good way to maintain the luxury experience while transitioning shoppers to e-commerce, and will probably result in lower than average return rates as well.

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