ito ito sees itself as a shared factory and on-demand knitwear producer in a digital and transparent supply chain - made in Germany. The Shared Factory by itoito enables fashion labels to be part of a digital on-demand platform for knitwear. With their software, production is directly linked to demand. This helps the fashion industry become more efficient - no more overproduction, fully recyclable products with a transparent and local supply chain.
FCG: Could you briefly explain how ito ito came about?
Friederike Pfeffer: The way fashion is (over)produced today and the reports about growing mountains of rubbish from discarded textiles motivated us to think about how we can use our competences in a meaningful way to democratise fashion production and develop a method that is not only efficient but also part of a new circular economy with transparent and local supply chains. We have already developed a method with our predecessor start-up on how to control a knitting machine directly from the computer and convert images into knittable files. With ito ito we want to go one step further and create the possibility to produce complete knitwear collections individually in shape and pattern.
FCG: With the so-called "Shared Factory" you want to redefine the relationship between designers, producers and wearers. What is the ideal production process from the designer's draft to delivery to the end consumer?
FP: When a fashion label wants to have knitwear produced today, they first face the problem that access to production is difficult. There are high minimum order quantities that require large upfront investments and have little to do with economic and efficient production. In addition, the supply chains are confusing and require long-term planning. Our Shared Factory turns the principle around. We develop the knitting prototypes. Using our algorithms, designers can select their basic product and then adapt it to their own designs in terms of shape, colour and pattern. We bundle the designs of different fashion labels with the same parameters and send them as one order to a knitting machine in our network. This means that any number of pieces can be produced at any given time and you always have control over where the order is in the supply chain. Production can also be linked directly to demand and only be commissioned when a customer has ordered something in the (online) shop. Because the garment is produced "on demand", it can then be sent directly to the customer.
FCG: According to your website, there are many advantages to the model such as "zero risk" and "zero waste" for designers and producers in "zero sampling". Are there perhaps also disadvantages that arise from a pure digitalisation of the samples? If so, what measures do you take to counteract this?
FP: In general, producing with a knitting machine is very demanding - there is a programme for each knitted piece that has to be written individually and that controls the machine. With our software, we are now making on-demand production possible. For this, we have developed a software in which you can create your design so that it can be produced directly without having to have any previous knowledge of knitting programmes. Our software is based on algorithms that have been developed to cover many requirements of fashion labels. Certainly, there are special knitting techniques that our system will only be able to offer after a certain period of development, but we are constantly developing new products, both in terms of material and models, so the range of possibilities will also become more extensive over time.
FCG: You are located in the Hanseatic city of Bremen. How would you rate Germany as a production location for fashion products?
FP: What hardly anyone knows today is that Germany can look back on a long history of textile processing and fashion production. The Bremen Cotton Exchange, for example, has existed for 150 years and in the 20th century several million bales of cotton were turned over here every year; at the same time, the Swabian Alb was home to the pioneers of textile production who invented important textile processing methods.
Unfortunately, many companies and production facilities have migrated in recent decades, with production mostly taking place abroad for cost reasons. Germany still has the know-how for high-quality production, but if we do not act quickly, this knowledge will soon no longer be available.
FCG: How do you think Germany can become a leader in the production of sustainable and/or circular fashion?
FP: Germany has a lot of technical know-how and entrepreneurial inventiveness that is needed to initiate change and develop new methods of production. We also see this around us in very different approaches, such as in the field of recycling. At the same time, Germany is of course the EU's largest market. Important support measures are being launched by the EU and the German government to bring production closer to the market again and, above all, to make it more sustainable. This is also an important trend in the economy, because when energy costs and the CO₂ emissions caused by transport account for a growing share of production costs, supply chain laws demand greater transparency of producers and traders, and customers are increasingly asking questions about origin, then local supply chains can become a decisive factor in competitiveness. The roads to this end are currently being laid out, we just need to build a functioning highway on them.
FCG: What do you think the future of fashion production looks like?
FP: At the moment, more or less all fashion brands are busy making themselves more sustainable. The fashion production of the future clearly also has to do with a rethinking of fashion consumption among customers. Fashion will be worn more consciously, be it in the choice of materials, in the awareness of the production method or the lifespan. But the idea of unlimited availability anytime and anywhere must also change. Things have to get a greater value again, it doesn't have to be a disadvantage to wait for something. This change in thinking will result in a change in consumption, which will also require adapted production and a change in thinking on the part of manufacturers. But customers need a clear and recognisable system that helps them to make the right decisions.
There are also clear advantages to on-demand production, because you can respond much more to the individual needs of your customers. Be it in terms of individual sizes, or that you can react much faster to trends.
We would like to thank Friederike Pfeffer for the interview.