We live in a world of fancy-schmanzy sounding products like “craft beer” and even “craft sausages." Where anything from Dominos Pizza to Ice (yes, as in frozen water) can be called “Artisanal” and “Small Batch” seems to mostly mean paying a large premium.
So are labels like “Bespoke,” “Couture” or “Made-to-Measure” just as trite and meaningless, or can they be useful in helping customers understand real differences between one product or another?
As the guy responsible for deciding how we describe ourselves at Topology, I’ve been researching the origins and meanings of the terms used to describe the various levels of customization in fashion and apparel, to consider if any could be a more helpful label than “Custom-Fit” for describing Topology Eyewear.
What I've found is that there is actually a spectrum of labels spanning various degrees of customization, and there are some useful meanings behind the terms that can help you decide what to buy.
So let’s start with some basic definitions...
Bespoke products are generally the most customized of all products on the custom label spectrum, having been made from scratch with the greatest degree of uniqueness for each individual customer.
Etymologically speaking, bespoke means “spoken for,” in reference to having been designed and made exclusively for an individual person. Bespoke traditionally refers mostly to menswear and suits in particular, with origins from the famed Saville Row in London.
In more recent times, bespoke labeling has been extended to “anything specially made for a person, to their taste, to their sizes, made from scratch and NOT a result of adjustment/change/alteration to an already existing item.” (Credit: My Custom Tailor, Quora)
According to the purists, for a product to be truly "bespoke," it must abide by several rules and criteria:
It seems that these rules could beyond suiting to other products like eyewear, so let's see how Topology measures up.
Yes. In many ways Topology Eyewear is truly bespoke:
The frame styles you see in the Topology app are like the “slopers” of bespoke tailors. They are the outline silhouettes that differentiate one design from another, but have no actual measurements or sizes themselves until applied to a specific individual person.
Believe it or not, there are actually 5 fittings that occur in the process of creating one pair of Topology glasses.
Our imports and stock room consist only of raw materials, such as acetate from Mazzucchelli, lightweight flexible steel, and un-edged lenses. From these basic materials, we sculpt each and every pair from scratch, right here in San Francisco's Design District.
I don't want to mislead, and in all honesty there are a few aspects of the purist definition of "bespoke" that don't completely translate to Topology:
So what’s next?
Made-to-measure offers a lesser degree of customization than bespoke, but typically for lower price and shorter order-to-delivery time. This is possible because each customer's product is a variant of an existing pattern or "sloper," rather than being designed and created from scratch for each customer.
So, it's a step in between bespoke and ready-to-wear. Personally, I understand it by thinking that it didn't measure-up to you, but then they made it measure up to you! Or simply:
The suit didn't fit, so they got the scissors out and MADE it fit!
In a sense, yes, Topology Eyewear is made-to-measure:
But in many ways, the label of made-to-measure description doesn't do us justice:
OK so we're a little different to bespoke, but definitely something more than Made-to-Measure. What's next?
As "bespoke" and "made-to-measure" are so synonymous with menswear, and because Topology Eyewear makes custom prescription glasses for both men and women, it is important to consider whether the womenswear equivalent is more inclusive.
When you think of custom-made dresses, you of course think of "couture," or even "haute couture." But what do these phrases mean, and are these good monikers for Topology Eyewear?
Google defines "couture" as
"The design and manufacture of fashionable clothes to a client's specific requirements and measurements."
This sounds like a great match for Topology. Further more Wikipedia defines "haute couture" as:
A haute couture garment is always made for an individual client, tailored specifically for the wearer's measurements and body stance.
Which perfect. So let's look further into the specifics:
Fashionista claims that "To design couture, to become a couturier one must be certified by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture and follow these rules:
Furthermore, Liliy Essence on Quora suggests that
"Couture" means 'hand-made' with at least some 60% of the garment being hand-sewn, not machine sewn.
It is true that every pair of Topology eyeglasses or sunglasses are "tailored to the individual client, both in style and size." (As Mochni defines couture). However we make every pair in San Francisco, and certainly don't have an Atelier in Paris, France!
So assuming that the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture would not take kindly to us appropriating their protected designation of origin, we'll skip this one and keep looking.
Google's dictionary defines made-to-order as
Specially made according to a customer's specifications.
This sounds like a reasonable match for Topology Eyewear, however sources such as Merriam-Webster define made-to-order as:
Produced to supply a special or an individual demand
By this definition, made-to-order could be construed to not include the critical fact that each pair of glasses themselves are custom-crafted to the measurements and requirements of one customer at a time. For example, a batch of several identical stock eyeglasses could be made only when a customer places an order for them.
Topology Eyewear is absolutely made-to-order, and this is a great thing because significantly less waste is created when a frame is only made when ordered. But we need a label that better focusses on the uniqueness of fit for each person.
I've always liked the designation of personalized for what we do, because the personal aspect of the product and service is so important to us.
I also like Wikipedia's definition of personalized:
Personalization consists of tailoring a service or a product to accommodate specific individuals, sometimes tied to groups or segments of individuals. wikipedia
At first this sounds like a nice broad definition that could encompass everything we do at Topology, but other sources define personalization much more narrowly, such as:
To make personal or individual; specifically : to mark as the property of a particular person. Merriam Webster
Of course it is absolutely true that Topology is personalized eyewear, as we inscribe the inside of your temples with any name, nickame, handle or even phone number if you choose.
But this is perhaps the least remarkable of all of Topology's offering, and not the highest priority aspect to bring attention to.
This is the most general and flexible of terms, and is the go-to word for most Americans looking to describe something that made especially for a specific person, group of people or use case.
"Custom" or "customized" could also be considered the over-arching name for all of the previous labels, which is helpful as a catch-all, but not helpful in quickly describing what we do.
It seems there is no ideal existing category label to lean into, which is why you often hear me combining several terms when describing Topology to someone I meet.
The closest label is definitely "bespoke," and I appreciate how it focuses on the extra attention to fit and style that is so central to the Topology experience. (Side note: it also happens to be the official registered corporate name of our company!)
But as mentioned earlier, there are too many gaps between the proper definition and Topology's true value for it to be fitting enough for us.
There's no great word to label a product or service Topology, because nothing like this has ever existed before.
And when an entirely new category is born, the new quite often needs to be framed in context of the familiar. For example:
Cars had to be called "Horse-less carriages" before they could be understood as "cars."
It also stands to reason that in the future, we will stop calling autonomous vehicles "driverless cars," and instead will find a snappier name for the category. We just don't know what that is yet.
So in the meantime, I think we can continue to say that:
Where "custom" brings the meaning of "built according to individual or personal specifications or preference" with a specific focus on the customization of the fit for the individual person, which is our superpower.
So for now, "custom-fit" becomes our "horseless carriage" and we will continue to brainstorm on what is our equivalent of "car."