Shima Seiki
Hanson Wade

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Johnstons of Elgin creates unique knits with Unmade

The project enables unique knitwear to be produced on an industrial scale for the same cost as mass production

18th December 2017

Knitting Industry
 |  London

Knitwear, Collections

Johnstons of Elgin has worked with London-based knitwear platform Unmade to enable the manufacture of one-off luxury knitwear by automating production at the company’s Hawick factory. This enables Johnstons to automatically manufacture orders from the Unmade platform and ship directly to customers within three weeks.

“We’re seeing consumer demands change. Our customers are demanding shorter and shorter runs, and Unmade is leading the kind of innovation the industry needs to adapt to these changes and build for the future,” commented David Hamilton, Operations Director, Johnstons of Elgin.

The manufacture of one-off luxury knitwear was created by automating production at the company’s Hawick factory. © Unmade

Once a customer places an order with a partner brand, Unmade's technology automatically generates machine-ready knit files for each individual order. The software groups together jobs based on colour and material, allocating them to machines to be manufactured and automatically generating the associated paperwork. Unique products are individually tracked throughout the factory process thanks to Unmade’s patented processes.

Mass personalisation

Johnstons of Elgin is a leading manufacturer of cashmere and woollen goods, producing knitwear for some of the world’s most prestigious brands. The luxury market is changing rapidly and the last two years have seen a shift from big production runs to smaller, more bespoke jobs and ever-shorter lead times, as well as an increasing demand from brands and retailers for unique, customised product.

The second-oldest family-run business in Scotland, the company says it understands that its survival depends upon their ability to the deliver the ever-changing needs of the marketplace. “Johnstons of Elgin have been in business for over 200 years,” explained Operations Director David Hamilton. “We’re constantly asking ourselves what the next 200 years will look like.”

Unique products are individually tracked throughout the factory process thanks to Unmade’s patented processes. © Unmade

With consumer trends moving from mass production to mass personalisation, Johnstons was looking for a way to fulfil the demand for unique product within its existing production line, without compromising bulk production or lead times.

New order management system

Creating the files to control standard industrial knitting machines requires considerable technical knowledge and is both time and labour-intensive. With customers demanding shorter lead times and broader variety, Johnstons was keen to find a solution that removed the programming burden of one-off orders and enabled them to manufacture customised garments without human intervention. The solution also needed to be easily integrated into their existing production line, used directly by staff, and unique garments needed to be trackable throughout the manufacturing process.

Unmade has created a new order management system that sends partner factories the exact manufacturing instructions from online customer orders, without the need for human intervention. For each unique garment, knit-ready files are automatically generated, along with all associated paperwork and a patented system for tracking each and every garment. Customised orders can be grouped together with bulk production jobs to increase the factory's throughput and reduce changeovers.

The software groups together jobs based on colour and material, allocating them to machines. © Unmade

“Integrating our technology into Johnstons’ factory represents an exciting step for Unmade and is proof that our concept can work at an industrial scale. Johnstons' reputation as a world-leading manufacturer of luxury knitwear, and their mastery of traditional techniques combined with their investment in cutting-edge technology, meant they were the ideal business to be Unmade’s first manufacturing partner,” said Hal Watts, founder and CEO, Unmade.

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