Mention knitting machines, and you won’t typically get overly excited reactions. But add the word “digital”, as in “digital knitting machine”, and attitudes starts to shift. The Kniterate, a digital knitting machine we backed through fundraising in 2017, is about to get shipped to our offices. That seems like a good time to bring together what we know so far about the machine, and what we have learned about the digitalization of workflows, business and culture.
What does 3D printing for knits really mean? We’ll try and find a few answers.
MAKING KNITTING DIGITAL
Industrial knitting is a massive business. The Kniterate however tries to open a new category of machines.
The Kniterate produces knitted fabrics out of industry quality yarns, for clothing and other textile products. The machine executes commands like size, shape and pattern as well as design, and combines up to six different yarns per row. It will process any image file and turn it into a knitting pattern using K code. The Kniterate is fully automated when it comes to the execution.
For the price of an Apple Mac Pro computer, you can now produce industry quality knitwear in your workshop, with any design you fancy.
If we take a step back in time, we can see another example of the knitting industry as a forerunner of a much wider economical and technological turn. In the 1800s, Jacquard machines (https://www.scienceandindustrymuseum.org.uk/objects-and-stories/jacquard-loom) were the predecessors of the textiles factories, due to their superior flexibility and cost effectiveness. With the use of punch cards, Jacquard machines also marked a decisive moment in the early development of computing.
The digital design and production process have a direct impact on significant aspects of knit production. By making the design digital, the Kniterate takes away the technical expertise needed to operate a machine. The required skills lie in the realm of digital design and marketing, rather than in the craft of yarns and manual knitting operations.
Digital manufacturing thus follows the mega trends of fast prototyping, platform economy, customization and sustainability.
In fashion, like in all other industries, CAD and rapid prototyping are likely to disrupt many businesses, introducing new marketing options and more transparency in the supply chain, and enabling people with a different skillset to try their hand at knits.
A current example of speeding up innovation through CAD and prototyping is today’s B2B use of 3D printing, which has seen increased variety of materials and techniques since its early days 30 years ago. https://www.forbes.com/sites/louiscolumbus/2019/05/27/the-state-of-3d-printing-2019/#50e60b4246c2
The Kniterate is often dubbed the 3D printer for yarns. Both machines are about enabling the mechanical production of things from a digital file, using materials like plastic, concrete or wool. Both open new opportunities by radically simplifying the production process, and making the production tools a lot more affordable to a lot more individuals.
Crucially, by making knit design digital, Kniterate and 3D printing also open up the possibilities of a platform economy.
The Kniterate is shipping to the EU, the US, Canada and the UK. The number of machines isn’t disclosed, and there will be a ramp up time. But the end game certainly is to create a global platform for local knitters using digital designs.
Let’s take a look now at the context in which the Kniterate is making its appearance.
In 2020, there surely is a very broad wave of sympathy for all actions and products with an environmental benefit. Some would even say that PANIC is appropriate in the face of the daunting task to drastically curb carbon emissions. The carbon footprint of fashion, its wasteful consumption mode and harmful or even deadly production conditions have captured the attention of millions of consumers.
The impact of the Kniterate on climate action could take several shapes. For one, Kniterate enables on demand production, where products are first ordered, and then produced. This can help cut away the 10% of textile production that never gets sold.
Second, customers who spend the time to design or customize their clothes are more likely to wear them. Thus, Kniterate clothing would not come on top of the 50% of our wardrobe we never wear!
Third, the production with the Kniterate is transparent and local, unlike delocalized mass production.
And finally, locally made garments from regionally produced yarns have a very small transportation carbon footprint. This could be the case for production or for prototyping pieces.
The Kniterate is produced in China. Due to the current virus wave, production of the machine was stopped as well as shipping.
What is not stopping though is the digital transformation of marketing and communication. Here, we believe the Kniterate could have a significant role to play. Already, the UNHCR used its potential to shape its Christmas fundraising campaign in 2019: #KnitForRefugees
The UNHCR and author Neil Gaiman designed a solidarity scarf featuring a poem about the fate of refugees, written by refugees themselves. It was produced on a Kniterate machine.
The race is on for the creation of beautiful, meaningful and climate positive knitted designs, which look and feel good.
How does the Kniterate spark your creativity? Get in touch with us and discuss your ideas to make the most out of the digitalization of knits.