A Smarter Fashion System

May 13, 2019

Rarely do brands show us how they make garments, leaving us clueless about our clothing. However, what if we could see our garments being made right in front of us? We could finally understand clothing production on a deeper level. This scenario is becoming more likely as brands experiment with in-store production.

The experiments focus specifically with knitwear, thanks to new technology from companies like STOLL and Shima Seiki. Traditionally, knitwear requires a worker to cut and sew together a knitted fabric. This process leaves 30% of the fabric as scraps on the cutting room floor. STOLL’s knit and wear® technology and Shima Seiki’s WHOLEGARMENT machine each produce an entire knitted garment, eliminating the intense labor and waste. Considering that knitwear includes everything from our shirts to our socks, these innovations can touch our entire wardrobe.

Early adopters of the technologies have integrated it into their productions. Others, however, are exploring the technology’s potential, pushing the boundaries of traditional manufacturing models by testing in-store production. The two trailblazers are Adidas and Ministry of Supply, both of whom started experimenting in 2017 by putting the machines in their retail locations.

Adidas experimented by creating the Knit for You pop-up shop in Berlin. Customers could walk into the store, get their bodies scanned, select a color scheme, then wait four hours for a €200 merino wool sweater knitted just for them by the knit and wear® technology. Ministry of Supply took a bolder move by permanently installing the WHOLEGARMENT machine in its Boston store. In just 90 minutes, the machine can crank out a customized sports jacket that costs $345. The company also creates custom sweaters based on each person’s specific thermal profile.

By putting the making process out in the open, these technologies have huge potential to create a more transparent and sustainable fashion system. First of all, on-demand production eliminates the dilemma of unsold merchandise. While brands are becoming better at matching inventory to sales, there are still errors. For example, H&M had about $4.3 billion worth of unsold merchandise in 2018. What’s concerning is that most of this unsold merchandise is destined for dumpsters. Urban Outfitters, Eddie Bauer, Victoria’s Secret, and Michael Kors are just a few brands known to cut up garments then trash them. However, with the WHOLEGARMENT production model, there would be no more extra garments destined for our landfills.

The technology also offers value beyond perfect fitting clothing by informing customers how their clothes are made. Considering the negative effects the fashion system has on the planet, seeing the production is just as important as seeing the clothes before you buy. By connecting consumers to the production, STOLL and Shima Seiki are empowering shoppers. Adidas says it best, the technology is “an invitation to join the investigation into how today’s choices can define the shape of tomorrow.”

With these technologies, brands and customers can make more informed decisions about what comes into the world. A smarter, faster fashion system is on the horizon. In order to start this fashion revolution, it’s time for more brands to follow pioneers like Adidas and Ministry of Supply and bring production to a store near you.