Sustainable fashion - the Unmade story
Unmade is transforming the fashion industry and creating a revolution in how people buy their clothes. I recently attended an event where Hal Watts, one of the founders of Unmade, was interviewed by Brooke Roberts-Islam, a fashion tech and sustainability expert.
Unmade is a global fashion software company which drives innovation through customisation. It offers fashion businesses an end-to-end digital solution for on-demand production at scale. Nice! Unmade works with some of the most innovative fashion, lifestyle and sportswear brands to foster a new level of customer experience through customisation.
How did Unmade begin?
Unmade was born out of a desire to reimagine both the design and manufacturing processes within the fashion industry, so brands only make what is actually sold, resulting in minimal waste.
Unmade was founded in April 2013 by Hal Watts, Ben Alun-Jones and Kirsty Emery.
They started off making knitting more accessible - they looked at ways of improving customisation in knitting. In order to do this, they developed their own software to code the processes used by industrial knitting machines. This meant that they could make products on demand and led to a popular pop up store in Somerset House. Nowadays, the focus is on building software to help fashion brands make their supply chains more efficient and sustainable
Unmade was accepted into Techstars and subsequently obtained its first VC funding in May 2015. They have been fortunate to have high profile industry angel investors like Jose Nives (Farfetch).
The original plan was to offer easy digital iterations which would enable knitwear to always be on trend. Essentially, they were using the knitting machines as giant 3D printers for clothes. The key problem they were trying to solve was the amount of waste - approximately 20% of clothing is incinerated, this is because fashion businesses have to bet on lots of styles and order them a long time in advance. Inevitably, some styles will be more popular and successful than others.
At the end of 2016, Unmade pivoted to selling the software and leaving Farfetch to handle the retail side. This strategy was successful and they are now working on rolling out the approach to larger brands.
Unmade recently raised an additional $4m which means that major fashion brands can now integrate on demand. The product is sold as a customisable product solution but a by product is that their customers are actually getting on demand manufacturing.
Whilst knitwear remains the Unmade product offering, they are working on similar technology for print manufacturing. In tandem, they are expanding into the US. Unmade is keen to retain control of the global process.
Who is the main customer base?
It is important that the customers are ready to adopt the new technology. Hal noted that inevitably this is more popular for higher end offerings. Not least because where cheap materials are used, waste isn’t such a big problem. That said, Unmade is working with some fast fashion brands which are trying to be fast and sustainable but not disposable.
The major downside with customisable clothing is the delay. That said, customers typically expect some sort of delay. In the US, Unmade can go from an order to in 4-5 working days.
Local manufacturing is likely to increase over time as with customisation, the low labour costs available in other jurisdictions are less of a concern. In the future, the same software could apply to all garment production including laser cutting.
This is a great example of fashion and technology coming together to solve both environmental and business problems and create new opportunities for designers to respond quickly to changing demands. Exciting times!