December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

In-vesting in a web site

The web has long been touted as the ultimate one-to-one medium. Seattle-based Rivers West, which makes fleece apparel, hopes to prove that’s true. Shoppers at riverswest.com can create their own $100 vests, choosing from more than 5,000 combinations of eight basic styles.

Rather than warehouse all these combinations, Rivers West manufactures the vests to order. The company tells buyers to allow two weeks. Rivers West has done no marketing and is testing the waters to see how well the vests will sell, says Michael McGinley, company owner and president. “I don’t want to take a chance on us falling down on this new product,” he says. In the first 10 days, the company had 1,000 visitors and sold 50 vests; the feature went live November 1.

The idea to build a vest online was McGinley’s brainchild two years ago. Rivers West spent $250,000 and six months creating the technology and preparing production facilities. It developed the technology in-house with the goal of keeping the build-a-vest process simple and quick to load, he says. Rivers West has spent 11 years in the apparel business, making items for brands such as Nike and Adidas. It has two manufacturing facilities in Utah and one in Seattle. Prior to the new vest offering, Rivers West’s site functioned primarily as a b2b site for retailers buying clothing.

Levi Strauss and Co. took a build-your-own-apparel approach to its web venture, only to fail because, among other problems, it couldn’t fulfill single orders in a timely fashion. McGinley believes his company is small enough to pull it off.

If the vests take off, Rivers West will likely expand its vest offering and let customers build jackets and pants. “The apparel industry was always saying wouldn’t this be nice but now we’re doing it,” McGinley says.

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