October 22, 2020

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HK start-up using 3D tech to make zero-waste jeans

According to a recent report, a Hong Kong start-up is combining 3D scanning and weaving technology to make the perfect pair of jeans, as consumers’ preferences shift from big-name brands to tech-inspired and sustainable fashion.

The start-up, based in the US, joined a Hong Kong incubator in February 2019. It is a zero-inventory “techstyle” store where jeans are only made when an order is placed. The incubator says techstyle covers material and supply chain innovation, wearables merging technology and style, and new retail experiences.

The two-year-old robotics and apparel company aims to become a zero-waste operation. It is developing a 3D weaving machine that would completely eliminate fabric waste, with plans to deploy it in stores as early as the end of this year.

One of the company’s three co-founders noted that with 3D weaving, the start-up will no longer have any cut waste, the discarded fabric from traditional apparel making techniques. For now, the start-up uses their cut waste to create reusable packaging for their jeans.

The packaging also happens to be able to fit a 13-inch laptop, even though the designers did not intentionally make it that way.

The start-up is currently in talks to close a seed funding round but declined to disclose further information on the deal or their valuation.

According to database company, the size of the global denim market was US$60.4 billion in 2017 and is forecast to grow to US$87.6 billion by 2023.

A report from market intelligence firm showed that the growing popularity of online sales is enabling vendors to provide customised denim products tailored to each customer’s size and colour requirements.

The start-up joined a host of luxury labels, making everything from jewellery to glasses frames that employ 3D body scanning techniques to boost sales.

According to consultants, mass personalisation is being made possible with advances in 3D printing technology. Another report noted that 15% of respondents were willing to pay 40% more than the regular retail price for a personalised fashion item.

The start-up expects that trend to grow. It has partnered with a body scan company to set up more than 1,000 infrared scanners worldwide where customers can get a 20-second body scan that allows for customised fittings, stitching, and styling.

The start-up said that most of these scanners have been placed in gyms, as one of their main customer groups includes people who work out a lot, so they often are unable to find mass market clothing to fit their body type.

The company’s founders chose to focus on jeans, which has one of the most polluting and labour-intensive manufacturing processes. Workers who sandblast fabric to create distressed denim are saddled with chronic lung disease, while dyeing requires toxic chemicals and hundreds of litres of water per pair of jeans.

The aim is to offer products that do not involve using labour to spray toxic chemicals which is why the firm is experimenting with ozone wash and laser whiskering to create the patterns.

The company said they originally started out partnering with a workshop in Hong Kong, but since the latter could not meet demand, they have roped in other manufacturers in China’s Guangdong province.

There are currently no pop-up stores in Hong Kong; orders are created via appointments only.

Furthering Hong Kong’s Smart City goals

According to the Smart City Blueprint for Hong Kong, the HKSAR Government is working to enable the business to capitalise on Hong Kong’s renowned business-friendly environment to foster innovation, transform the city into a living lab and test bed for development.

In addition, the Government aims to consume fewer resources and make Hong Kong more environmentally friendly, while maintaining its vibrancy, efficiency and livability – this includes zero waste initiatives.

The start-up’s goals are in line with the HKSAR Government’s objectives of continuing to explore and formulate initiatives to:

  • adopt new green technologies when they become commercially available;
  • create low carbon, more sustainable environment for the people;
  • optimise the use of city resources, including waste reduction, reuse and recycling.