After being told it couldn’t be done, the creators of Unmade found the technology possible to launch their unique clothes brand, which allows customers to design their own knitwear online.
23 Aug 2016
What happens when a mechanical engineer, an electrical engineer and a fashion designer get together? The academic disciplines of Unmade’s three founders lie at the heart of this fashion-meets-technology business.
Ben Alun-Jones and Hal Watts (the two engineers) met Kirsty Emery as students at the Royal College of Art. A year or so after graduating, Watts and Alun-Jones couldn’t find a supplier for their idea of making custom-made sports kit for elite athletes. So they turned to their old friend Emery. The trio explored garment manufacturing factories and the possibilities of using modern computer programmes.
A much bigger potential business emerged out of their discussions: knitwear that people could design themselves via a computer and have knitted and sent to them within a few weeks. In 2013, Unmade was formed and the founders started making enquiries.
‘They all told us we were bonkers,’ says Emery. ‘That it was either impossible or – at best – it would take five years to develop.’ The founders came back with a proof of concept in three months.
Two parallel production jobs needed to be executed: working with large-scale modern knitting machines and developing in-house software that could make the one-of-a-kind jumpers and scarves.
They discovered the 140-year-old German firm, Stoll, which makes what they believed were the best knitting machines in the world. Unmade ended up buying two machines for £35,000 each and renting another. Emery has developed such a close bond with the Teutonic machines that she named the three Herman, Hansel and Gretel. ‘I’ve often ranted at them,’ admits Emery. But it’s been a constructive relationship as she has become adept at manipulating the machines loaded with hundreds of mechanised needles. ‘When we first got them, Stoll called us to say, “Is everything OK, because you haven’t called us and we expected you to break it”,’ she says.
The software that talks to the machines to make custom knitwear, named Knyttan, is all created by Unmade, a crucial facet of a business that attracted £2m in investment in June last year. Unmade’s offices in Somerset House have mathematicians and physicians developing software working closely with fashion designers introducing new shapes and styles. ‘Interesting things come out when you put unlikely people together,’ says Emery.
This story first appeared in Courier June/July 2016.