Ralph Lauren will soon have technology at its disposal that could enable a new degree of product customization, which would make the experience of shopping at its flagship stores more distinctive and sustainable.

The brand is working with Dow Chemical on pioneering a new type of cotton dyeing process, which is more environmentally sound and allows for the coloring of cotton at any point during the production of an article of clothing, according to CNBC. The process, called Ecofast, utilizes 90 percent fewer chemicals, 50 percent less energy and 50 percent less water than traditional apparel dyeing processes. Ralph Lauren’s flagship stores, in particular, may have the technology in place next year. Were that to happen, it would allow customers to dye polo shirts a color of their choosing in-store.

Such an experience would not be Ralph Lauren’s first recent foray into personalized apparel.

Earlier this year the retailer added an on-demand, “Made-To-Order Polo” feature to its direct-to-consumer website. Online customers can choose from hundreds of possible designs to be made to spec when the customer places the order.

On-demand customization technology has grown more popular as the apparel space, especially fast-fashion, has come under fire for being wasteful and environmentally unsustainable. Creating products to spec, in small runs and with less environmentally damaging processes looks like a potential way to meet customer demand without creating huge amounts of excess product.

For a number of years, technologies have been developed which promise a new level of in-store apparel customization. For instance in 2017, Boston-based retailer Ministry of Supply installed a machine capable of “3-D knitting” a blazer to spec in 90 minutes. At the time, the retailer said it foresaw eventually producing one-third of its clothing with that process.

Ministry of Supply continues to tout its 3-D knitted products and began creating 3-D-printed face masks in the early days of the pandemic, according to a National Retail Federation blog.

Amazon.com has likewise been eyeing customizable, on-demand products as the future of apparel. In 2017 the e-tail juggernaut filed a patent for an automated apparel customization system. 


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