It’s difficult to find the perfect garment or piece of gear. It might be a bit too long, too thin, or just too small to haul the animal you just killed.
Kuiu, a burgeoning line of camouflage apparel and accoutrements (including “game bags”), is hoping to solve some of those problems, or at least head them off. The Dixon, Calif.-based company just launched GIRU, a web platform that crowdsources product design from customers.
“Design” might be overstating it a bit. On GIRU, browsing consumers are asked to make a number of choices for a particular product — anything from the size of the pockets to material and color — and then support their choice with a commitment to buy. The configuration that gets the most “votes” goes into production in an arrangement that’s part Kickstarter, part textile skunkworks.
“We’re going to know exactly what to build, exactly what people want, and exactly how many to make,” said Kuiu founder Jason Hairston. “Eventually, we won’t develop a new product without running it through GIRU.”
In a retail industry desperate to divine demand and sharpen supply chains, it’s as promising an experiment as anything else. In any given year, roughly 15 percent of retail products are brand new, which means a similar amount didn’t do enough business to survive the previous year. For every Adidas Stan Smith sneaker that plays for decades, there’s a one-and-done, such as Under Armour’s Curry Two “Chef.”
Misses are costly, as are attempts to avoid them, which to date range from focus groups and A/B testing to hiring product-design consultants.
Dan Fishback, a GIRU investor, is familiar with the imprecision of forecasts from his days running DemandTec, a unit of IBM using math to divine production and pricing from retail transaction data. “Some brand manager is a rock star one year and the next he’s in the ditch, because he’s really just winging it,” Fishback said. “GIRU is kind of where the puck is going.”
And while the design feedback is helpful, GIRU also offers a bit of magic for marketing and finance. It turns out people generally like to share their opinions on the internet and GIRU is peppered with buttons to “share with friends,” and those who participate and buy will receive the product before it hits the wider market.
Meanwhile, as GIRU tallies votes for a particular item, it’s also financing production with that upfront commitment to buy.