Globally known as the ‘kings of customisation’ and the go-to fashion tech company for all things personalised including apparel, footwear and accessories, YR was launched seven years ago by Welsh school friends, Tim Williams and Tom Hogan. The company has worked with a wide spectrum of brands, as well as high-profile fashion labels – Michael Kors, Nike and Ralph Lauren are among their client list – and has offices in New York, LA, Hong Kong and Tokyo. They are on course to turnover £10m this year. Eyestylist spoke to Tim Williams, Co-Founder.
Customisation continues to be a very hot topic in fashion. Can you outline how YR started and how the business has evolved? We started in 2013 as a custom fashion brand – a consumer brand that enabled anyone to come into a YR store and easily create designs on tees, sweatshirts and accessories and then watch as they were printed in just a few minutes. We were very early adopters of experience first retail – no printed inventory in the store, so everything was made on-demand, and the whole theatre and excitement of creating the item and then seeing it come to life live, in-store was really something unique.
YR opened multiple stores all over the world – but sadly it was a difficult business, none of us were experienced at fashion retail and it was tough without serious investment. So, we repositioned what we did and went B2B – helping other brands bring on-demand and customisation to life in-store, at events or online. Now we have 5 offices in London, LA, New York, Tokyo and Hong Kong and work with brands on all manner of projects – big and small – all over the world. It’s quite the evolution!
You have worked with global fashion retailers including DKNY, REEBOK and L’Oreal. What has been your most exciting creative project to date? That’s a really hard question and actually the answer is, the most creative time was when YR was a consumer brand. It was exciting that we could make decisions and release artwork packs and see how customers liked them, with live feedback talking to them and seeing their reactions. We worked with some great artists in our London stores; one personal favourite was LA illustrator Bob Motown who loves pizza and cats. Commercially my favourite creative project was working with Liberty where we brought Liberty prints to life on scarves and t-shirts in the iconic London store. Customers could use the patterns to make new designs and add their own touches, it was really incredible to be able to delve into the archives.
Are you a creative or a tech geek? Who brings the creative direction to YR? I think I am creative, it would be hard not to be and get where we are. But, I don’t think its either/or when it comes to tech – there are plenty of creative techie people. I guess I am one of them, I understand the technology but also have a love of creativity, art and design. My business partner and long term friend, Tom, is both creative and highly technical – so not only is Tom heading up our software side but he also drives the creative concept of the business alongside me.
What is your view of how this direction in customisation will further evolve? Made-to-order, bespoke and custom products date back hundreds of years – the great tailoring tradition used to be the preserve of the rich and now, YR, and many others are working hard to make customisation and ‘one of one’ manufacture a reality for mass goods. So I think this is just the beginning. Evolution will take many forms – today, in-store you use touchscreens to make or tweak designs, maybe that will be more gesture or voice-controlled in the near future. The production techniques are moving forward rapidly as machine manufacturers understand this new need for smaller, more nimble machinery. I think there are lots of new production techniques and customisation options on the horizon, not previously possible. Jewellery and accessories are a large area that has a lot of potential. I think 3D printing will come of age and be quicker and better than ever. More importantly, I think consumers will cherish their custom made products more than ever as we strive to have less ‘stuff’ but better and more meaningful relationships with clothing and accessories. The future is exciting!
As a company, with offices far afield, what is your key focus? Is sustainability something you think about? Of course, the global nature means there are some elements of travel that are not good for the environment. That is an issue for us as a business. But, we are enabling a more sustainable future – one reason is the answer above – we want consumers to fall in love with their items and cherish them, something that bespoke and customisation really encourages. As we start 2020 on-demand production and a move away from just customisation is key for YR. That means that instead of a customer choosing a pre-made item, the item is made just for them when they want to buy it. This hugely reduces waste and eliminates stockpiles over time. Sustainability and reduction in oversupply is a key reason we do what we do – we are working alongside some of fashion’s biggest brands to make them more sustainable whilst improving the customer experience.
What inspires you personally? I love building the company and doing something that people love. At YR we put our team first, which means we grow and learn and get better, together. That’s inspiring. Also, I love new ways of doing things and being creative with finding solutions. I’m passionate about turning the traditional business model of fashion on its head and I am constantly inspired by the people I meet.
Do you enjoy being in the fast lane of the new directions in fashion and on demand production? Sometimes. Ha. That’s the truth, really. It’s great when it’s great, but being in the fast lane or on the leading edge of anything opens you to issues and there is no proven path for what we are doing. That can cause customers to have very high expectations – which is not always fun. However, for the large part, it’s great – thinking we have helped shape a market that didn’t exist before us (in-store design via large screens) is interesting. Having our tech running all over the world feels good, and most of the time cancels out the stress of the demanding side of being in the fast lane. Find out more at https://thisisyr.com
Interview written by Clodagh Norton