Something Wicked has been producing luxury hand-crafted lingerie at its base in Leeds since 2016. Each garment is made by a single member of staff from start to finish, working with materials from local suppliers as part of an entirely UK supply chain.
Harnessing the skills of talented local makers has been at the heart of the company’s strategy: supporting the talent pipeline in the region, the company also welcomes placement students from the University of Huddersfield’s fashion and costume programmes.
“Local, traceable manufacturing is a vital part of our story,” explains Steff McGrath, Managing Director at Something Wicked. “The appetite for UK-made luxury products is growing, and that presents us with a lot of opportunities.”
With plans to extend the brand’s reach in e-commerce and increasing numbers of enquiries, it became clear Something Wicked would need to upscale its production capacity to meet demand.
The challenge was how to do this while keeping the creative skills of individuals, so integral to the company’s ethos, at the heart of the process.
Collaborating with Claire Evans, Senior Lecturer at the University of Huddersfield, the brand developed an innovative human-centred design process – identifying digital tools and technologies that streamline manufacturing not by reducing human input, but by supporting the individuals that drive the process.
“We focused on bringing in digital tools in a natural way – designing processes that enabled creative staff to work more efficiently,” Claire says.
“We invested time being absorbed into the company, getting real insights by speaking to staff about their pain points and priorities. All of this impacts the final product so it’s important feedback to gather.”
The project identified how digital equipment could empower staff at each stage of the production process. Machines that cut thread automatically or can be used for more than one process make a number of small time savings that add up to a shorter product lead time. Similarly, machines with voice functions that repeat back user commands made a real difference to staff when checking their own work.
“If you can save a bit of time here and there it eventually adds up to a big change,” Steff says. “The new equipment gives us so much more room for improvement and consistency.”
After hiring them on a trial basis during the project, Something Wicked is planning to invest in two new machines to embed these changes in the company.
“The feedback from staff during the trial period was really positive,” Claire adds, “and sometimes quite unexpected. For creative people who build relationships with their work, having a machine that said hello in the morning made a big difference! Taking in information using different senses, such as hearing commands back rather than having to visually check everything, also worked well for them.”
Digital tools were also identified to support pattern-making and grading. Most Something Wicked garments were produced from physical card patterns kept on site, but over time these had started to degrade. Small defects in the pattern being cut can add up to overall issues with inconsistency and fit – especially as patterns have been created and graded by different people over time.
Using specialist pattern and grading software, the project team digitised the existing cards. Not only does this ensure that every pattern is now held in a consistent format, it enables new templates to be cut from rigid plastic which will retain its shape. The company can now use this as the basis for a digital pattern archive, adding new designs with every collection.
“Everyone works a little bit differently, so a system that allows for consistency across the board is vital to get our product right,” Steff says. “It gives us a solid basis to bring in more staff in future, working with an established system.”
With production capacity increased, Something Wicked – which usually has around 8 freelancers, employees and interns – is currently planning to create two new jobs. For Steff, the project offered time and space to look at the big picture, exploring how the company can grow and offer more opportunities for creatives while keeping their skills as the brand’s driving force.
“We’re never going to be a production line. That’s not our story,” she adds. “We want to have efficient equipment and tools to support talented people and this project has been brilliant.
“Our facilities are in a former mill, built for manufacturing in the community. Eventually we’d love to reclaim some more of the space for that purpose.”