Thu July 28, 2011

Colorado Business Gives Mannequins a Makeover

Broomfield-based Fusion Specialties is trying to help retailers boost clothing sales by creating more life-like mannequins. These are custom-made models that look like the real people who shop in stores—or at least look the way shoppers imagine themselves. In this difficult economy, a mannequin makeover can be a huge help to retailers like Disney Stores.

Disney recently redesigned 32 of its stores to include playful child-size mannequins that encourage shoppers to interact with the merchandise. The mannequins appear to curtsey, jump after balloons, and, in some stores, fly.

“They definitely look like they’re more lifelike,” says Terri Cooper as she’s shopping along with her daughter and granddaughter.

The idea behind the new mannequins is to show children in real and imaginary play poses. Regional Manager Jeff Zimmerman stands near a plastic white castle. On top is a mannequin sitting cross-legged, wearing a blue Cinderella dress. He says they can inspire parents “to kind of evoke a sense of imagination of your child maybe wearing that dress, and what else to explore.”

In the redesigned stores, Disney is calling their sales very strong for swimsuits and costumes shown on these mannequins. And the company believes the displays played a role in that success. Chains like Athleta, Charlotte Russe and Dick’s Sporting Goods are also putting money into new mannequins. And that’s boosted sales for one of the world’s largest custom mannequin makers, Fusion Specialties.

From Mannequins to “SuperModelquins”

Outside of Denver, Sculptor Ileana Barbu is carving a two-foot clay sculpture—one of the first stages in creating a custom mannequin prototype. Next to her, gray limbs hang from a so-called “arm caddy.” In fact she’s surrounded by life-size body parts.

“And I have a bunch of heads like those ones my colleagues have worked on,” she says as she points to dozens of clay shapes sitting on a nearby shelf.

Each design coming out of this studio meets the needs of specific retailers. And Peter Huston, who manages this brand for Fusion, says mannequins can change dramatically depending on what they’re selling.

“That’s why for Guess Accessories a tall sleek mannequin that has the detail removed but gives you these beautiful fluid lines to accentuate accessories is a very appropriate and unique use of mannequins,” says Huston.

But the needs of Guess are very different from those of Dick’s Sporting Goods, which recently updated its mannequins to have more chiseled muscles and athletic poses. For Disney, Fusion created pint-sized mannequins after studying real kids at play. And they created something called “SuperModelquins” for a 2009 Old Navy ad campaign.

The price of creating a custom prototype can run companies from $12,000 to $24,000. And that’s just getting started.

Mass production for Fusion mannequins can run up to $550 dollars each. By way of comparison an everyday mannequin costs as little as $150.

Not only is this custom mannequin process expensive, it can be painstaking. The molds are attached to a platter the size of a satellite dish. While it rotates they’re filled with a polyurethane substance. After the material dries, workers open up the mold like a cello case. The mannequins are then sanded and prepped for paint. Fusion uses everything from subtle finishes to shiny gold and black.


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