Commonly known as crowdsourcing, the business model of these companies is to sell products created by the very same people who will buy them. One of the best known of these start-ups, the T-shirt company Threadless, has proven the great mutual benefit of the model: emerging designers get their work seen, and Threadless gets to brag that their T-shirts have some of the newest, most unique designs anywhere.
Crowdsourcing is being applied everywhere from eateries to marketing services, and one of the best examples I have seen popped up this week from a textile company from Finland. The 70-year-old Finnish interiors company, Vallila, has launched Bon Bon Kakku, an online store that sells fabric designed by the customer. If you are not a designer, you can purchase fabrics designed by other users (and there is no shortage of selection—the available designs are fantastic). If you are a designer, you can submit your idea to the site, get some fabric made for yourself, and then your design will appear on the site for other visitors to vote on. The patterns that receive the most votes go into Bon Bon Kakku's retail offerings and can be purchased by anyone.
There are design competitions running on a continuous basis on the site. Even if you are not looking to buy fabric, there are a lot of inspiring designs to scroll through. If you have a concept, submit it. With no boundaries on who sees and buys products online, there's no limit to where your ideas could end up.
When not working in design, Sarah Rich writes, talks and forecasts about food and consumer culture.