The Champagne Life on a DIY Budget Since 2007

Bespoke on a Budget: DIY & Crowdsourced Clothing

Ever find a shirt with the perfect fit, only to discover that the sunshine yellow fabric washes you out, or that the cuffs are the wrong style? As you, our fashion-savvy readers, may attest, trying to find custom-made clothes on the cheap can sometimes be a wild goose chase.

Not any more: in the past year, about half a dozen new (mostly Boston-based) online services have cropped up and are hard at work on the solution, providing made-on-demand clothing and accessories that can be customized to fit each customer’s needs and the changing way we shop for clothes. Many of these companies also offer promising alternatives to overproduction and waste, since each product is personalized and then manufactured on-demand.

Here are a few of our favorite new ways to attain bespoke fashion on a Shoestring budget:


Blank Label
In October of 2009, co-founder and “chief shirt” Fan Bi discovered the wonder of custom-made shirts while living in Shanghai, and a light bulb went off. Breaking from the mold of standard — and often predictably boring — men’s dress shirts, Boston-based Blank Label’s “co-created” shirts (“designed by you, stitched by us”) come in 34 different fabrics, which can then be customized in a variety of different options. Choose your collar, buttons, lining, even epaulets for a little extra flair, then your shirt design is sewn to fit your exact size specifications and shipped directly to your door. Starting at $45 each, Blank Label shirts are a great way to polish up your work wardrobe without busting your budget.

Much like Blank Label, 9tailors is also Boston-based and also provides custom created-on-demand men’s dress shirts. 9tailors’ shirts start at $60 and come in 54 fabrics, including twill, broadcloth, herringbone, and gingham. The service also offers customers additional features to choose from, like convertible cuffs and mandarin- or tuxedo-style collars. 9tailors, founded by Samatha Shih, recently branched out into wedding fashion, making custom suits and offering discounts for wedding parties and larger orders, and will be launching a “beta version” for women’s suits sometime in the near future. Check out Shih’s blog for fashion inspiration, styling tips, and easy tricks to reinvent your wardrobe.


Open Runway
Open Runway, launching soon from their headquarters in Cambridge, Mass., is slated to become a resource for finding talented up-and-coming and undiscovered fashion designers, both professional and amateur. Founder Monika Desai’s goal is to “democratize fashion,” through ongoing contests where customers vote on their favorite shoe designs from little-known designers. The winning looks will then be manufactured and sold exclusively on, starting at $140 per pair, which can be customized in color and design. Open Runway is set to launch this summer, and will eventually expand from just shoes into custom apparel and accessories, as well.

Fashion Playtes

Like the fashion plate sets many of us may remember from our 80s childhoods, Fashion Playtes is a real-life online version for budding pre-teen fashionistas. The Salem, Mass.-based service, founded by Sarah McIlroy, allows girls to choose from a variety of clothing templates and patterns, customize those garments with trim, rhinestones, fabric colors, and graphics, and actually order their fashion designs to be manufactured. Prices start at $12 per garment, and the shopping selection includes un-embellished clothes, made-to-order labels, and over 2 million total design combinations. Design templates and embellishments are updated seasonally, making it easier and more budget-friendly than ever for even the most discerning of design-obsessed pre-teens to rock the latest looks.


A few companies have started to branch out from apparel and accessories to jewelry, too, like Lexington, Mass.-based Gemvara, which allows customers to design their own jewelry, from pendants to engagement rings, by adding their own creative flair and choosing exactly how their final product will look before placing their order.


Other sites, like Florida-based Chic Star and Chicago-based Threadless, have long been contributing to the custom clothing marketplace by allowing users to vote on their favorite graphics or pieces before the items are manufactured for sale. Boston-based Spreadshirt has also long provided an online solution for companies and individuals looking to design and sell their custom T-shirts and other apparel, great for everyone from softball leagues to start-ups.

Create your own T-Shirt

Story: Copyright 2010, Shoestring LLC. Photo: MissMessie, Creative Commons license.