Host: So hello, and welcome to PlatformE first, very first, the number one episode of our podcast series.
Today I'm going to be discussing or talking to Brooke Mckever from unspun.inc and discuss how unspun are creating on demand custom fit jeans.
Brooke: Thanks for having me. This is exciting! First episode.
Host: It is the very first of many, hopefully.
So, just before I start asking a few questions, obviously about yourself and the brand, do you want to give me just a little introduction to your professional background and what you're currently doing at unspun?
Brooke: Yeah. So, I've been in the fashion space for about ten years now. Previous to unsun, I spent a few years in Asia working in factories, mostly mass production factories.
The factory I worked out with BEXIMCO. That's Bangladesh's largest vertically integrated factory. So there I was working on sustainability projects, focused on waste reduction and kind of impact calculations.
From there, I have worked on projects with the US State Department, a little bit on labor and labor tracking and addressing those situations that are happening in the factory, on the ground, and how to best work on that.
And then kind of met in the middle with the fashion and the tech space at unspun after I got my graduate degree at Stanford, focused on fashion supply chain systems.
And at unspun I've been here for about three and a half years now.
So, first was really focused on the product, so the fit algorithms and really working on the productions and operations and how everything works and kind of have been transitioning now into the Director of Product Innovation.
So, that's more working on partnerships and collaborations and kind of what's what's next in the fashion space for our company.
What would you say are the main goals for the brand when producing using an on demand model or the current strategy that's in place?
And just a little bit of background on unspun. So, unspun is a few things.
On one end, we are a brand, so we make custom on demand jeans for customers. And then on the other end, we are working on a hardware, a 3D weaving loom that will weave
pants to shape without creating waste.
So, our whole company ethos is how to make the fashion world a better space through innovative technologies, in software and in hardware as well. And then in the end, how to
bring all of that together. So, just like a quick background on us holistically.
Host: What came first from the brand's point of view, is it the want to produce jeans and denim products or was it the technology? And that was simply a product that fit nicely into what was trying to be done? What was trying to be achieved?
I mean, really how this started was Beth, one of the three founders of unspun. She was really excited about the idea of additive manufacturing.
So, she was playing in that space for a while. Then she met Kevin and Walden and they
started thinking, well, if you have additive manufacturing, you can also make things
custom and you can also make things on demand. And so that kind of spearheaded this whole.
Host: Okay, well, can we have a perfect fit and can we make algorithms or machine learning models to make pants or clothing in general that do that while also always working on this additive manufacturing piece?
Brooke: So, really the idea started with a thought of additive manufacturing, but then the custom and on demand model is the first one that we've been able to get off the ground. And then this year we're finally going to get the 3D wedding loom off the ground as well. So it's been like a bit of both.
Host: Yeah. I myself have got some history in the additive or 3D printing area, more manufacturing within aerospace and automotive and things like that from what the brands trying to do at the moment, obviously, with the 3D or the additive manufacturing, there's a lot of options with different garments, different products.
Are you guys - obviously, I don't want the brand secret - So, what you guys are planning? Is there any sort of insight?
I've noticed that a lot of your social platforms - obviously I did a little bit of research before we have this discussion - a lot of you is shouting and screaming about the brand, and the brand is great! But a lot of questions on: are you going to be producing anything else? Is there anything within the additive manufacturing site that you're looking to move into or produce other than the products that you guys are already producing?
Brooke: Yeah. I mean, we're really thinking a lot about this right now because we've been very focused on the bottom, the bottoms category in the fashion industry. Why we started there is it's a notoriously hard thing to fit, especially in denim and especially with jeans. So, that's where we put our focus.
Now that we've kind of our system in place, we're really excited about exploring other categories. So,we are looking into that right now. And for our 3D weaving loom in our pants that we're making out of that. It's not actually denim.
So there's a lot of exciting stuff coming out of that machine at the moment, but it's more of like a thick, chunky woven Pant. And it's kind of getting out of the denim realm.
But we're very excited to talk to collaboration partners to work with other brands on custom made T-shirts or custom made denim jackets or what is the next huge fit issue, an inventory issue for brands and customers that we can tap into here. So we are really looking at that.
Host: In terms of the customization and made to measure trends, where do you see the brand being in the future?
I know it's a very broad question, but would you say within customization, you're going to be a leader in a certain price bracket or within a certain product? What's - not the end goal - but what would be the dream scenario?
Brooke: When you try to blend tech and fashion it can be very confusing for customers as well. And we really want to break the mold of we want to be a custom and on demand brand that is following the trends and being very trend forward and really trying to show that this model can compete and it can compete with other products and other brands
Well, it's not just about the technology.
People have to love it.
They have to want to buy it.
It has to be relevant.
So, sometimes you can get a little too bogged down in the tech, and you can miss this kind of like fashion marketing space or sometimes you're too far in the fashion and marketing space, and you're really actually missing out on a lot of tech opportunities.
So, I really see unspun as the one to really bring those together in a way that works, and it's great technology and people get it and they want it, and it's actually products that are relevant to the culture today.
Host: Would you say that's the main challenge for the brand, finding the balance between the two, between obviously, the tech itself and giving consumers or clients what they want in terms of product?
Brooke: Not really, actually.
I mean, people are very vocal. You just have to listen to them.
And our model is really interesting because you have such deeper connections with your customer through having to help them through the scanning process or helping them through customizing or seeing what they customize and who they are. There's so much information there.
So, we have all of that at our fingertips, and we're really able to put the customer in the middle of the conversation and react on that.
I would say that more challenges that we face are more about all of the communication there. So the paradox of choice.
When you go custom, there can be too many options. S,o how do you make people feel
like they can personalize things and it can be custom without completely overwhelming them with a ton of options.
So, we're really trying to find the sweet spot there to showcase what we do and make sure that even if there's some outlier customers that want something a little bit different, that they can do that without showing too many options there. And then as far as explaining to them as well, with custom, it's interesting.
Like, we use PlatformE on our website so people can go in and they can customize the fabrics, the thread color. They can really see what everything looks like.
But I think the next step for us would be okay, but how can you build out a library of avatars so they can actually see what it looks like on them?
So, there's a bit of a leap. And when you're going so custom, like, we are, like, the body shapes can drastically change.
So, how to accurately communicate to the customer what this is going to look like, but
what this is going to look like on you. S,o that's a really important piece of the puzzle for us as well.
Host: Definitely. Are you guys working within virtual fit at the moment, or is it simply selective sizes or what's the plan around the sort of fit strategy?
So, really, we have proprietary software that we're using right now that help us with our fit.
So, you come in, you order a pair of jeans, you get a body scan, and then our software understands. Okay, what have you ordered? We look at the body as 10,000 data points instead of a set of measurements, and then we build the pant around the avatar. And while that's happening, we've got rules in place.
It's kind of balancing, like, what they've ordered with rules of geometry within this layer of subjectivity, because academic fit can only get you so far.
You really need to understand, like, how people want this item to fit, and that could change based on their body shape, their age, their location.
So that's, like, a really important layer to build in for us.
Once we have that pattern, then we use a variety of 3D software to kind of, like, map it on the body, make sure the street looks good, and the heat maps are looking good as just a final check.
And then we have systems that we use to communicate to the factories on exactly what thread colors to use, who the customer, you know where it's going. And so it's also about the communication with the factory to make sure it's as smooth and easy as possible for them as well. Because when you're making on demand and custom and changing thread colors and changing fabrics, it can become confusing.
So making sure that we streamline that is really important.
Host: Going back just to cover, let's say, final points in terms of the brand and the business, from your previous experience going from looking or working within mass produced models, the difference to working now on demand, what would you say is the biggest benefit, not only in sustainability, but would you say for a business moving forward?
Brooke: Yeah. I mean, as financial point... inventory. Right? So we're in the system where we're really trying to guess what consumers want, and sometimes we can do that really
well, but sometimes we can't.
And now you have this whole system of trying to guess and match with the customer. You've got inventory waste in the fashion space. We know some stuff that's going on with the inventory waste right now. It's a very hard thing to manage and to know what to do with when you can't sell it.
So really, that is not only a sustainability opportunity, but it's also a financial opportunity for a business model. So I think that that's really interesting. The zero inventory there.
And then when you think about fit just going to the customer, traditional brands, they have a few fit models that are of certain proportions, and then they have a grading set that they grade out, and then everybody needs to kind of compromise and squeeze into these proportions.
So really many people are compromising on fit, and it's very hard for them to understand brand to brand, if this fits me in this brand, but it doesn't actually fit me in this brand. The sizes are changing. It's a very confusing space for the customer and especially when you're talking about jeans and especially when you're moving more into online shopping.
So this is becoming like a very frustrated area for customers. And I think that this is a really great opportunity to kind of make it like a better experience for them.
And then the third thing that I think is a huge opportunity space here is the relationship between the brand and the customer and the customer and the product. When you think about 60% of garments going into landfills within the first twelve months of them being made, you're like, wow, why is that? It doesn't have...
Host: The consumer haven't much of a connection to the product itself if it's just being thrown away. So wastefully...
Do you find that the clients because they're able to customize certain aspects, they grow a relationship with it, or because they feel part of the design process, they have more of a closer relationship to the brand itself?
Brooke: Yeah. I think it's two fold one. Again, it's just fit, right?
Because this is the reason why you own ten pairs of jeans and you only wear two religiously every day, and the rest just sit there. So it's a bit of that. And then it's also a bit of we have a really tight relationship and communication with our customers. They really trust us.
And one of the strongest things we do is we build those relationships because we have these extra touch points. And I think being able to customize and pick a thread color in our system, you can put a red thread on a black pant. People do it all the time and they just love it. And I think when you bring them into that design process, the pants immediately become more valuable to them emotionally.
Host: Okay. So before that's, enough basic information that I'll be asking or questioning on the brand itself. Just a few questions for you personally just before we sort of end the conversation.
Apart from unspun obviously being your favorite brand on the planet at the moment, is there any brand that you're impressed with at the moment or that you think of pushing boundaries? It could be a small brand. It could be a large brand. Is there something out there that you know recently that impresses you personally in what they're doing and the way that they're working?
Brooke: Yeah. I mean, we just launched a collaboration with Pangaia. This isn't really about customization, but I'm really excited to see a brand really dive into the materiality of their clothes.
And really they're half material researchers and half designers, and the brand is blowing it out of the water. And it's so exciting to see that and how they explain their sustainability stories. I think it's really exciting.
Oh, man, there's so many brands. I just don't even know where to start here.
Host: Let's keep it to one more.
Brooke: Yeah. Even a brand I was just talking to yesterday, four days. They make T-shirts and sweat pants and sweatshirts and all of this. But actually, you don't realize that half how they spend their time is understanding the recycling systems behind all of this.
So everything's made from previously recycled clothes. They have drop off bins that
they actually do things with. And because they're really trying to actively work
on this, it's a huge part of their operations. But as a customer, you'd go on the website and you're like, oh, I like this. And I want to buy it. So again, just like so much happening
underneath that's kind of baked into their story and business model, while at the
same time having a very successful brand. I just love those stories in general.
Host: Yeah. Like you said, there are quite a lot of brands at the moment pushing boundaries and doing the right thing in both large and small brands, mid sized brands.
Brooke: I talk a lot with students that are trying to navigate this, particularly the sustainable fashion space and it's really hard because when you graduate there's no job that's like sustainability designer or sustainability textile assistant. There's not a good path.
So in my mind there's two paths to take. I mean, one is just find a brand that you're obsessed with and just email them and get on their radar. And chances are if they're a growing brand, a position will be open and you can sneak in there.
But I also believe that these larger brands, being a person that's in the textile department or in the design department and being a sustainability advocate can be very, very powerful.
So I also don't like to dissuade people and you also learn a lot, but I've seen people go into companies and really be pieces of the puzzle but turn things around. So I think that that's really important too.
When I was working in the factory in Bangladesh. I started as a textile designer and
then slowly after three years built the sustainability department that was running
upcycled lines and had 30 people in it as well. And that was just through being curious
and doing some projects on the side and then kind of presenting some of the
results and getting everybody excited.
So I think that there's a lot that can be done in that space as well. Congratulations on the success and obviously the success of the brand.
Host: I'd like to thank you, Brooke, for joining me. It was a pleasure to learn more about you and unspun.
And thanks to all the listeners and viewers for the updates on our next episodes. You can subscribe to our newsletters, follow us on our social channels.
Again, thanks, Brooke. It was an absolute pleasure.
Brooke: Thanks for having me.
Host: Thanks. Bye.