Selling unique knitwear, customisable by the consumer and making them to order, manufacturer and fashion brand Unmade has disrupted the ideas of production and the price point of bespoke clothing.
Retail Connections spoke to Unmade CEO, Hal Watts, about how the start-up approaches challenges in a very different way to a traditional fashion brand, and how it is hoping to be part of a seismic shift in creating an industry of on-demand clothing.
What inspired you to bring technology into bespoke clothing?
We wanted to do something that wasn’t considered doable. Our background as founders gave us a different view of what is possible. We also had the skills; Kirsty has experience in fashion and knitwear, while Ben and I are engineers. As a result, we have developed all the technology to back up our proposition, which didn’t previously exist. It has worked for us, and we now have a large team of tech people and a few patents.
How do you combine your work with designers and keep products customisable?
It is a step outside the comfort zone for many designers. But as part of the development process we work closely with them to come up with a level of customisation they are happy with. We believe that the products we offer and the manufacturing process is scaling a designer’s ability to have an individual conversation with the consumer.
Unmade has an amazing story and ethos, how are you developing that as the business grows?
Our product wouldn’t be the same if it wasn’t produced in the UK; you can’t make responsive products if you have to wait weeks for delivery. We are passionate about retaining our brand ethos as we grow, so over the next year, we plan to work in partnership with British manufacturers to scale our production. Our technology can work with other factories, which means that we can move production depending on demand. Currently, every piece we sell is produced at Somerset House, which I think surprises people you would not expect that clothing is being made in London Zone 1.
You invite customers to visit the factory – do you feel this changes your relationship with them?
I don’t think it changes our relationship, but it fundamentally alters their attitude to their clothes. Seeing how they are made gives the consumer a new understanding of the garments, they get an insight into its story. We see that it changes the way they treat the garment.
As an ecommerce brand and manufacturer, do you feel that a lack of bricks-and-mortar presence affects the business?
More than 85% of clothing is still bought in store, so there is no doubt that there is still very much a place for bricks-and-mortar. We have had three pop-up shops, most recently one in Selfridges over Christmas, where we actually took a machine into the store. We’ve seen that a physical premises gets the concept to a broader audience and there is a conversation that isn’t necessarily had when consumers buy a garment from the online store.
What do you see as the future of British manufacturing?
British manufacturing has a strong future; I have no doubt about that, but I also think that clothing manufacture is about to undergo a great deal of change. If you take the digitalisation of music and books as an example, it has led to a reduction in the quantity of individual items, but an increase in the volume of options available. We think that the same thing is about to happen in the fashion industry.
Fashion is going to move to on-demand, and the only way it can work is if production is on-shored. In response to the rapidly changing wants of the consumer – you can’t ask someone to wait six weeks for it to be delivered from China. British manufacturing can play a huge part in this, there is the capacity but the industry needs support. While there has been investment in equipment and technology, there is a lack of skills, which is something the industry will have to work on.
What would your advice be to other fashion designers and start-ups?
I don’t think we realised that this was going to be a slow process – everything takes a long time. The fashion industry is not very responsive, it’s still driven by collections and seasons. That needs to change. There is a realisation that this predictive seasonal format isn’t able to keep up with the consumer. As a result of the current systems, a lot of designers and retailers are left with dead stock. Over the next year, we are working with a few existing large retailers on lines. It is very interesting to look at how their supply chains can become more responsive.