Podcast 80, CITIZEN WOLF - A TECH COMPANY WITH A FASHION PROBLEM
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EPISODE 80 FEATURES ZOLTAN CSAKI, CO-FOUNDER OF CITIZEN WOLF
The mainstream fashion production process is extremely wasteful. The whole system is built on over-ordering, taking a punt on how much will sell, and writing off over-production. This leads to shocking amounts of pre-consumer textiles and garments being landfilled or incinerated - according to some estimates, 1/3 of all the fashion ever produced it never sold.
Australian made-to-order T-shirt company Citizen Wolf is using big data and algorithmic power to disrupt this. And they plan to take on the world. Can it work? How did founders Zoltan Csaki and Eric Phu build it? This thought-provoking discussion looks into the fashion crystal ball to imagine a leaner, greener, more responsive manufacturing future.
“Our business is built on on-demand manufacturing. We only make it if we’ve sold it. So we don’t sit on stock, we don’t go on sale, we’re not seasonal, we’re not trend-led. That means that we can run a much leaner business, and a much more sustainable ONE.” - ZOLTAN CSAKI
Read about their natural fabrics, including organic cotton and hemp, here.
WHAT WE TALK ABOUT…
ANIMAL MAGIC. Read Vanessa Friedman’s New York Times piece about the tiny bugs that can eat polyester, here.
TOO MANY T-SHIRTS. “The world doesn’t need more T-shirts, *in the way that they are currently made: mostly offshore, produced at the lowest cost, with exploitation throughout the whole supply chain,” says Zoltan. “The $5 T-shirt is a symbol of exploitation.”
According to TheWorldCounts.com, 29 million tonnes of cotton are produced yearly. Now, obviously all that cotton doesn’t just get used in T-shirts, but it’s equivalent to 29 T-shirts for every person on Earth. Whoa!
“QUITE SIMPLY FASHION IS IN CRISIS AND OVER-PRODUCTION IS THE DEFAULT” - ZOLTAN CSAKI
FIELD OF DREAMS is a 1989 Kevin Costner movie about a farmer who believes he’s been called by a higher power to build a baseball pitch in his cornfield. The famous line is actually, “If you build it, he will come,” but “Build it and they will come,” has become the popular saying. It suggests you’ve got to have faith whatever your project; that if you create something, fate will ensure there’s a market for it. Yeah, about that…
ONE-PIECE FLOW - basically, one garment is sewn at a time. Forget Henry Ford and his mass production line. Advantages? Trouble-shooting gets easier - when you produce in batches any quality issues won’t surface until you’ve buggered up loads of units and finished the job. One-piece flow allows you to weed out problems as you go. Worker satisfaction is higher - it’s more rewarding to complete a full garment than sew a single seam, over and over. And you can design out waste. Win-win-win. Except, it takes longer, requires more skill and probably costs more as a result…
SO-CALLED STANDARD SIZES. We humans are all different shapes and sizes. Australian Standard womenswear sizes, based on data from the 1920s, were abandoned in 2007, and brands now set their own fit guidelines, which vary widely. A 2014 survey by Choice magazine found that half of Australian clothes shoppers reported garments didn't fit them.
TAILORING. They say, “99.9% of fashion brands default to mass production, which means 7.6 billion humans of different shapes are forced into a handful of standard sizes. But these so called 'standards' fail 4 out of 5 people. Tailoring is the answer, and it was pretty normal even as recently as grandma's generation. Unfortunately the traditional process is slow, expensive and clunky which is why tailoring is mostly limited to fancy suits and wedding dresses.”
SOLVING THE FIT PROBLEM WITH TECH. Citizen Wolf calls their algorithm “Magic Fit” but really it’s just maths. An algorithm is a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations. Basically, it’s data helps a machine make decisions. Citizen Wolf has collected data sets for T-shirt fits from so many people that, they say, it can predict your perfect fit according to “3 or 4 pieces of biometric data, things that everybody knows – height, weight, age and bra size for women.”
OTHER COMPANIES SLAYING IT WITH BIG DATA. Stitch Fix is a US-based fashion subscription company that uses A.I. to predict which fashion items individual customers are most likely to warm to. It also seems to be a way to encourage people to buy more clothes they didn’t know they needed, more often. At least if these customer reviews are anything to go by. But one thing’s for sure - it’s making money. The company is about to roll out in the UK, and they have 2.9 million active users in the US. Read more here.
WHAT’S NIKE DOING? "Big data and analytics is the wave of the future for Nike, but how do we take that data and make it really useful for us? Right now, we are trying to analyze our supply chain and how we can get product to the customer at the right place at the right time." - Dave Vinson, Nike, via IBM Meanwhile, they just released these self-lacing sneakers…
A NOTE ON OUR MUSIC: IT IS BY OUR FRIEND MONTAIGNE, WHO SANG A SPECIAL ACOUSTIC VERSION OF "BECAUSE I LOVE YOU" JUST FOR US. IT'S FROM HER ALBUM GLORIOUS HEIGHTS.
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