One of the companies in the current Techstars London batch just launched their website yesterday, Knyttan. They’ve got some of the most interesting/unique technology I’ve seen in a while: they turn current industrial knitwear looms as 3-D printers for knitwear. The founding team includes three graduates from the Royal College of Art, and they’re full of passion and knowledge of knitwear. When it comes to disrupting an industry… they’re about to do it.
Current state of affairs
Knyttan is currently focused on classic knitwear: sweaters/jumpers and scarves. Today’s technology is literally archaic; the current code/protocol is 30–40 years old, and can be directly traced to punchcards! To create a sweater, a designer has to communicate the design/dimensions as best they can to a factory that has the loom manufacturer’s software to create the punchcard-code necessary to knit the sweater. These are then sent back to the designer in a series of back-and-forths until the designer gives their okay for manufacture. And when you’re a designer in the US/Europe dealing with a factory in China/Southeast Asia, this is a long, painful process.
For manufacturers, they also have significant constraints in what they can do. To knit a particular design of jumper, the different colours of yarn have to be on very different specific spools on the machine. And once a machine is set up to knit, it is time-consuming and costly to set it up to do something else.
What Knyttan can do with these existing industrial looms is incredible. They have essentially re-created the entire stack of code necessary for these looms to run. Instead of having to use complex software provided by the loom manufacturers, Knyttan has created a web interface that anyone can use. For people with knitwear factories, they can use Knyttan to turn their looms into general-purpose knitwear printers. It doesn’t matter what spool each colour of yarn is on, Knyttan can adjust. A loom can knit a sweater, and then a scarf, and then something else entirely without any costly change-over time.
For the first time, a designer can have complete control of the design/manufacture process. And for the first time, a manufacturer can radically improve productivity of their existing machines.
The two BIG effects
1- Democratization of design. Right now knitwear design is a pain in the ass, because designers don’t have the full set of tools necessary to go from what’s in their head to the actual creation of the item… manufacturers have to be part of the process. Knyttan allows any designer to create something they’d like to have/wear, and print/knit it out right away. This is transformational in the industry, particularly for designers that want to do more with knitwear, but don’t because of the pain involved.
2- Radical change in supply chain. The design cycle to design/develop knitwear is extremely long, potentially weeks/months as samples are sent between western designers and overseas manufacturers. Knyttan upends this process… designers can get back a prototype of their design in a matter of minutes to hours. But perhaps more importantly Knyttan disrupts the supply chain by making it far easier to create knitwear in smaller batches that can be manufactured on demand. Instead of being forced to make an order months ahead of time, either getting stuck with excess inventory (or having demand for product that can’t be filled), designers can order stock when they get low.
How you can check Knyttan out
If you’re in London, go check out their shop! You can buy some of their existing stock designs, or even design and print yourself an item in-store! (Literally, they have a loom in the store where they can create items immediately.) It’s in Somerset House, and you can find information here: https://knyttan.com/find-us/
If you’re not in London, you can design and create a sweater/jumper or scarf today, and have Knyttan deliver it straight to you. They just launched their site yesterday, so check it out here: https://knyttan.com