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It’s easy to get lost when following the crowd

At first glance, ‘crowdsourcing’ is one of those annoying buzzwords like ‘touch base’ and ‘mission-critical’, that sound flash but mean something quite simple and are seen through by any sane human being.

But it appears that the fashion world has welcomed this most buzzy of buzzwords with open arms and I for one am sceptical.

This has come to a head with the news that Los Angeles-based Offline Inc has launched, a site that takes the sort of images you find on Tumblr and Pinterest and prompts users to vote on them. Those that receive enough votes are then used to inspire a garment designed by the site to go into production. Dahlia Wolf joins a lengthening line of crowd sourcing-based set-ups like ModCloth, which has launched its second crowd-sourced private label collection, and Threadless, a T-shirt company that uses UGC (user-generated content) to propose and vote on designs that it then manufactures.

This sounds like a winning formula – ask the people what they want then give them exactly what they asked for – but I can’t help thinking this is both missing the point of design and ultimately doesn’t serve the companies that employ these tactics. I’ve used this Steve Jobs quote before but it rings true again: a lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.

There is an inherent skill in designing a coherent and exciting collection that can never be duplicated by a gaggle of excitable browsers deciding the world needs another studded-collar, distressed, cropped denim jacket or pair of high-waisted floral hotpants. What’s more, when these crowd-sourced ‘collections’ get lined up, the brand message is lost among the scattergun effect using too many cooks to devise the products created. This is one occasion when two, or indeed two thousand, heads aren’t better than one.

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