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Storytime: Bespoke Living – Build vs. Buy Decisions

With increasingly busy lives, most people learn to optimize their time by consuming “off-the-rack” products, made for people like them, offered at scale, and priced for profit. For most of the things we need, off-the-rack is good enough. Bespoke is a term often used interchangeably with custom and generally describes the process of having something built vs. buying it “off the rack,” from clothing to furniture to software.

Bespoke (/bəˈspoʊk/) custom made-from-scratch for a particular person or customer. 

During a trip to Nigeria, I had an opportunity to have some clothing made by a local dressmaker in Abuja. I believe the last time I’d purchased a custom-made dress was high school prom (or, as my shady teenager says, “back in the 1900s”).

  • The first challenge was deciding what I wanted; what do you even ask for with near-limitless options and an appetite for “off-the-rack” products.
  • The second challenge was time; purchasing on-demand goods is a very different energy than the careful planning, thinking, and refinement required to complete a bespoke transaction. Is it worth the effort? And what do you value most: products, process (experience), or people?

Bespoke vs. Tailored vs. Off-the-rack

With the rise of the global marketplace coupled with the emergence of intelligent systems that can leverage your data to deliver customized products and experiences, access to bespoke services is more accessible. To begin to explore your options, answer the following questions:

  1. What do you want? If you don’t know what you want, how much are you willing to pay for someone to help you decide?
  2. What do you value: product, process, people? Will an existing (off-the-shelf) product meet your needs? Why or why not?
  3. What is the true cost of implementing this idea from scratch (this should include the cost to design/build/refine/maintain)?
  4. How much (time, money) are you willing to invest in supporting your idea’s execution and refinement? 

Truly bespoke products are: 

  • made-from-scratch (not from existing patterns or products)
  • original (one of a kind)
  • made in-house (not outsourced)
  • offer near-unlimited options
  • require multiple hands-on sessions with the creator of the product
Created for You Enhanced for you Made for people like you
Premium Price Priced for Service Priced for Profit
Not Offered at Scale Made to Measure Offered at Scale
Unique Experience Personal Experience Low
Limited Supply Supply Available High Supply
Slower Slow Quick

Regarding products like suits, cars, furniture, you would expect to pay a premium for an original work perfectly tailored to your comfort, style, and preferences. Do you have similar expectations for software? You should.

There is no shortage of off-the-shelf, easy-to-tailor products that are “good enough” for most of your needs. Placing value on what you care about requires taking responsibility for what you want and creating a suitable environment for your unique ideas to thrive.

Kishau is an award-winning technology entrepreneur on a mission to amplify human capability and solve the world’s increasingly complex problems with computer science, systems thinking, and creative intelligence. She is the CEO of Time Study Inc., which empowers leaders with intelligent tools to build a better workplace by optimizing time and creating more value for the enterprise’s greatest resource, people. Her work is featured in many leading publications, including Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, CNN Business, and Black Enterprise. Kishau has a deep background in Computer Science, over 25 years of experience building and shipping enterprise software solutions, and more than 15 years of entrepreneurial leadership.