Knyttan, co-founded by Ben Alun-Jones, Kirsty Emery and Hal Watts, aims to remove the layers between designers and customers. Their software allows people to customise their clothes and have them manufactured in a matter of minutes.
Based in Somerset House, Knyttan’s Factory of the Future showcases the Knyttan knitting machine at work. Simply design a garment and send it to print - minutes later you walk out with a unique creation made for you.
While the fashion industry has been typically reluctant to embrace new technology, Knyttan’s Factory of the Future has changed the conversation and proved how these mass-production machines can be turned into a unique production method.
We caught up with co-founder, Ben Alun Jones to find out more about the Knyttan’s vision for the future of fashion and what it's like to set up shop in Somerset House.
How did you come up with the idea?
I met Hal and Kirsty at the Royal College of Art, where we were doing a design masters. We were interested in how you could change the manufacturing process to let more people in.
We wanted to enable the customer to be involved in the design process and the fashion industry was the perfect area to explore. Fashion is an expression of people’s personalities. If you can make something unique for every person it’s the ultimate use of digital manufacturing
The spark came when we went to look at an industrial knitting machine. We realised they were essentially 3D printers for clothing. So we set out to turn these mass-production machines into a unique production method.
So how exactly does Knyttan work?
We’ve created an automated system that can make a completely different item every single time. It’s purely software, we haven’t changed the design process.
Samples in the fashion industry can take weeks or months to be made. With Knyttan, customers create their designs online, when they press the knit button, the design is sent directly to the machine and within a matter of minutes it’s knitted out in front of them - for some items this takes just 10 mins.
What’s been your biggest challenge so far?
The conservatism in the garment production industry was the biggest thing to overcome. It was quite a challenge getting time on the knitting machines. They’re all kept in factories so they’re pretty hard to access.
When we tried to explain to the factories what we wanted to do, they told us it was impossible. They’re attitude was that people wanted to be told what to wear. They didn’t believe that someone would want to play a role in the design process and have something made completely unique to them in this way.
You’ve set up shop in Somerset House 'The Factory of the Future,' how important has this physical presence been for you?
Having a physical presence through the factory has been massively important to us. We’re doing something that people haven’t seen or used before, so as much as they get excited by the idea they are also slightly scared. A video can only explain so much and seeing the knitting machine for real, actually making your garment, was an experience we knew people needed.
There’s so much power in the physical space and we’re such a strong experiential company that we want people to come and have a great time editing their different garments and witness the process of making it.
What was the concept behind the design of the store?
We asked ourselves “how can we bring the factory inside Somerset house?” We wanted to hero the machine in the space. Traditionally these machines have been hidden in factories. We wanted it to be the focal point of our space, in full view of the customer. The machine sits within a graphic illustration of The Factory, a Lowry-esque outline.
We see Knyttan as a framework for great ideas. We wanted this to be the same with our store. The colour comes from the product, which is why the store is decorated in muted colours. We wanted to get out the way and let the product speak for itself.
Knyttan puts the customer in control, do you think this is going to be a big trend in the future of retail?
Yes, customers are absolutely ready for it. Our feedback has been that people love it. People are influenced by what they’re able to do online, so just as you can curate a personalised music collection online, picking from an unlimited selection of pre-made items, they now want to know how they can do this for physical products as well. The next step is how can you influence the creation of something specially for you.