The perfect pair? Custom-fit jeans startup challenges fast fashion mindset

The perfect pair? Custom-fit jeans startup challenges fast fashion mindset
Lauren Phipps
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 02:12

Canceled orders, excess stock, disrupted supply chains: The pandemic has laid bare some fundamental challenges with the way our clothes are designed, ordered, manufactured and sold — or landfilled, incinerated or sold on secondary markets. These impacts have been compounded by COVID-19, but the inefficient and resource-intensive apparel industry needed a redesign well before the pandemic. 

One company working to do things differently is San Francisco-based startup unspun . Founded in 2017, unspun is a denim company that specializes in customized, automated and on-demand manufacturing, designing out inventory altogether. Rather than walking into a shop full of jeans in set cuts and sizes, customers instead get a 3D scan of their body — at home using a phone app and the iPhone’s built-in infrared camera or in-person at an unspun facility, currently only in San Francisco or Hong Kong. The scan is used to manufacture a customized, bespoke pair of jeans within a couple of weeks. 

It’s not cheap — a pair of custom-fitted unspun jeans will set you back $200 — but like all disruptive technologies it has the potential to become more affordable over time. And while the denim might be pricey, the products’ physical quality and emotional durability encourage customers to keep their garments for longer, a tenet of circularity. Plus, if you factor in the externalized environmental cost of denim production — which unspun does — one could argue they’re a bargain (although that’s not a case I care to make during a recession). 

I caught up with unspun co-founder Beth Esponnette this week to talk about her company’s role in designing a better approach to the fashion industry. The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.  

Lauren Phipps: What problem is unspun solving?

Beth Esponnette: The fashion industry has been pushed to the point of efficiency. It's stuck. There’s a huge mismatch between what the apparel industry makes and what people buy at the end of the day. Especially now with COVID, there's a huge problem with excess inventory. Margins are so important, and there's not a lot of R&D budget — it's not even 1 percent of [apparel] companies' budgets that go to R&D — and big brands are risk-averse. They're used to doing things the same way and incrementally improving them, but using a very siloed supply chain. 

We produce clothing after someone's purchased it — build it on-demand versus waiting for someone to show up. 

We don't have sizes, which is more inclusive. We don't have inventory, which decreases waste and emissions.

Phipps: What kind of technology do you use to make custom garments for every customer?

Esponnette : There are two main pieces of tech that we've been focused...