Inside Unique.Fashion's Aim to Bring On-Demand Manufacturing to the Masses
By Jessica Binns
Late last month, Tennessee-based OnPoint Manufacturing collaborated with New York City's Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) to unveil Unique.Fashion, a new approach to helping young designers create and sell women's fashion. Through Unique.Fashion, FIT will enable its students to design, market and retail their original, branded inspirations, while OnPoint handles the manufacturing on demand and personalization at scale.
Since launching just weeks ago, Unique.Fashion has attracted six new brand clients. OnPoint automates and integrates virtually every aspect of the apparel production process from the moment an order is created to when a beautifully manufactured garment is delivered to the customer's doorstep. The company can manufacture millions of unique SKUs on-demand, slashing inventory costs and right-sizing the whole supply chain, thanks to tightly integrated components driven by advanced technologies.
J. Kirby Best, chairman of OnPoint Manufacturing as well as the related Purchase Activated Apparel Technologies, believes that this new platform addresses what he refers to as "TOM-C" professionals, people who: lack access to the right apparel production Tools, don't have the ability to do On-demand manufacturing, find it hard to break into the Marketplace, and perhaps most important, can't put together the Cash to finance their dreams.
There's a lot of technology in place behind the scenes that make Unique.Fashion possible. Best said he's spoken with several major apparel software vendors about rethinking their business models. Whereas many require upfront annual licensing fees or monthly subscriptions, these firms still could stand to profit if they get paid their cut every time of their users actually sells a product -- removing a barrier to entry for the emerging designer without the usual resources and infrastructure in place.
On the consumer side, ordering a garment through Unique.Fashion requires just a few simple variables. OnPoint has figured out a way to put the customer's height, weight and age into an algorithm that achieves remarkable sizing accuracy. Customers can tailor a garment's style and color to their personal tastes. From there these data points are fed into the size engine from Human Solutions and then into OnPoint's manufacturing facility, which gets a finished garment packed in an innovative shipping tube to the customers within days.
OnPoint plans to open up Unique.Fashion to all the fashion schools so students can market their products and get paid for their designs but give "a few pennies" back to the software partners -- key players in making all of this possible. This approach could be critical in helping fledgling designers to scale their budding businesses, Best said, because it sidesteps the financial outlay typically required to get a new label off the ground. "They're not putting money in a product that's sitting on the shelves," he explained. "They're only putting money into things that are selling."
In the venture-capital-craze direct-to-consumer world today, raising money has become "an art form," Best said, adding that there's "kind of a Darwinian thing going on." It can seem that the only brands that are making it are the ones that are raising money, which begs the question: are they succeeding because their product is superior or simply because they're skilled at charming investors?
A platform like Unique.Fashion "takes that element out of it," Best said, so that "the better product will rise to the top without the [venture] money." In order to prepare for the future, fashion must leave behind outdated and "non-consumer-centric" strategies, Best stressed. "It is time for the apparel industry to reap the profitability, sustainability, and speed to market that other industries enjoy by embracing the on-demand model," he said.