Making clothes is a complex process. From initial design to finishing touches, each garment requires a wide range of skills from sewing to pattern cutting. Few non-professionals can manage every step themselves, but Shruti Grover and Simon Johnson want to give more people the opportunity to literally create their own style.
“With such excellent British design talent around, and advances in automation – why should affordable equal mass-produced fast fashion?” asks Shruti.
“We want to democratise design-led, made to order clothing.”
Pattern Project was established by the duo to develop a new approach to self-made garments. Using pre-cut fabric with simple assembly instructions, it offers consumers a ‘flat pack’ item they can make for themselves at home.
“Shruti wanted to start making her own clothes, and just laying out the fabric to cut the pattern took up so much space in our flat,” Simon says.
“We thought, wouldn’t it be so much easier if you could start with the right pieces? It would be so helpful for amateurs too.”
The idea grew into an ambitious new concept, combining digital design and customisation with physical manufacturing and retail as well as individual makers.
Individual pieces will be cut on a machine in store, from an existing pattern or from a personalised design the customer generates on the website. Each garment will have the flexibility to alter details such as the neckline, pleats, or sleeves, enabling a range of variants on each design. There will even be a range of sustainably-sourced fabrics to choose from.
When the product is just right, the customer can then go into store and collect their pieces and even watch them being cut, or choose a pre-cut garment pack, before assembling the garment at home.
“We should all have a close relationship with our clothes – beyond narrow trends – and make wardrobe choices based on the physical shape of our bodies, and construction of the garment”, Shruti adds.
“Self-assembly will help make our garments accessible and also creates emotional durability for the wearer.”
By bringing manufacturing into store Pattern Project aims to provide a new retail experience, enhancing the social dimension of the high street by offering sewing, pattern-cutting and other workshops in the same space.
“We want to provide social infrastructure that supports the high street, combining this with e-commerce,” explains Simon. “Local stores could also handle orders from the website, so that even products bought online are manufactured nearby.”
Pattern Project won funding from Innovate UK for a 14-month project to get the idea off the ground, with some support from Future Fashion Factory to write up the application. That timeline has now been extended by 3 months to account for disruption caused by the pandemic, and Simon and Shruti have had to adapt their approach.
“We were going to run workshops where people could assemble some garments and give us feedback, but we have had to adapt this to a make-at-home model. That’s actually more reflective of the product, but it did mean we had to bring forward making the packaging so we could send packs out by post,” says Simon.
The test group were given paper instructions as well as a tutorial video from the designer, while garments are annotated to indicate where pieces need to be fixed to each other. Pattern Project will also investigate using augmented reality showing assembly tips when the user holds their smartphone over a garment.
Simon describes the feedback so far as “incredibly positive”, with the test garments needing fewer tweaks than expected.
At the moment, the duo are focusing on the next stage of user testing with different types of instructions, though they have also used this time to explore the machinery they will need in stores. Getting a head start on this phase means they can choose their software solution and begin programming the manufacturing system.
“It can’t be just another boring automated system. It needs to be human-centred, so learning and then using the machine is a fun experience. Bringing this stage of the project forward gives me more time to get that right so we have the most user-friendly process,” Simon explains.
The current project will continue to run for several more months, and depending on lockdown restrictions, will even go on to prototype the retail space for Pattern Project, bringing the vision of a local, community-based micro-factory and DIY fashion closer to reality.
We should all have a close relationship with our clothes – beyond narrow trends – and make wardrobe choices based on the physical shape of our bodies, and construction of the garmentShruti Grover
From there, Shruti and Simon are keen to expand their product range and work with emerging designers on entire collections of garments for home assembly.
“We’re building a library of annotations to help designers translate their creations into pre-packed patterns with instructions,” says Simon. “This model has so much potential for collaboration. We can’t wait.”