Why does Swedish clothing brand Atacac give its patterns away for free?
Atacac wants to reinvent the fashion industry – literally. Its mission is to change the way we design, present, sell and produce garments. And it’s succeeding on all fronts.
The brand’s pioneering new way of pattern making utilises 3D modelling and other technologies to reinvent the design process. It’s not just for its own benefit though. Atacac has made its patterns and models available for free for anyone to download and use. If that seems counterintuitive, you may need to realign your thinking with Atacac’s. It believes that a collaborative approach benefits everyone.
Co-founder Rickard Lindqvist and shop manager Hannah Holden gave us the insider scoop on new models of production and selling, flipping the concept of discounts and how the future of fashion lies in collaboration.
Rickard Lindqvist, Co-founder, and Hannah Holden, Shop Manager, Atacac
Can you describe Atacac in your own words?
Hannah – We are a clothing company for other designers in the way that we design clothing. We use a type of pattern making that is probably only interesting to other designers.
In addition to being at the vanguard of revolutionising how you design patterns for clothing, we’re really interested in being at the vanguard of producing clothing in a completely new manner, which is to reduce waste in the industry and within our own company.
We couldn’t have a fabrication facility where we produced so much stuff that was just thrown away later. We can’t afford it. But we think that the plus of having that sort of boundary is that we create a less wasteful production line, which is necessary right now.
As well as running your own brand, do you work with other designers?
Rickard – We do. Apart from running the Atacac brand, we do a lot of consultancy, mainly for large sportswear brands.
We use Atacac like a laboratory for developing ideas and principles. Then we work as consultants sharing that with other brands to improve their design. The other way we work with other designers is what we call Sharewear.
When we release a new product in our online store, we also offer the 2D pattern and the 3D model of the garment for free download. This builds a community of home sellers and independent brands that use our patterns and designs.
Are there any restrictions on how the designs can be used?
Rickard – You can do whatever you like under certain conditions. There is a Credit Common Licence connected to the Sharewear which means you can use it commercially in any way you like, and you can make improvements to it, but if you use it commercially and sell the product you need to give credit back to Atacac. You also need to make your development available for other people to keep developing further.
Some of the things we do are a way of practically commenting on what’s happening in the industry. Releasing our patterns and 3D models for free is our response to the fact that the whole industry is built on copying. Everyone is aware of that, but no-one refers to it. If you’re doing jeans and t-shirts, then of course 99% is already done somewhere.
If someone wants to copy what we do, I’d rather see they make a good copy than a bad copy of it. It is so depressing to me that someone should spend hours and hours and then make something less good than what we put effort into developing. It’s also a way to get the word spread about what we are doing.
Hannah – It’s public knowledge that there are a lot of high street brands that copy, but it’s important to note that literally everyone is copying. This is something that exists from haute couture all the way down to the high street. It’s not as if the ivory tower designers are the most creative people that have ever walked the earth.
Copying is something that happens all the way to the top and that’s fine. It’s a collaboration, so why not be transparent about that? If we acknowledge it and do it in a good way, then we can make it a better product. We can make a better production line.
It doesn’t have to be so precious. We can do things better if we just acknowledge that we copy and there’s a collaborative process. No one invented clothing. It’s just something that we’ve been doing for thousands of years.
Rickard – Part of my background is academic research and in academia you talk about ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ and building on someone else’s knowledge. This is our contribution to the fashion industry.
Another aspect to this is that we have been working with digital visualisation and 3D modelling of the garments for a couple of years, which is something that is becoming strong in the industry right now. There’s a revolution behind the scenes going on.
We’ve been used as a benchmark example in the industry for what will come in terms of digital visualsation. So far, we see that the industry is a bit slow in adapting to this and we thought if we sell what we do in developing the 3D models that would be one way for us to help speed this evolution up. We will only benefit from that.
If other fashion brands start to digitise their process and start using virtual garments and 3D models as a brand we will only benefit.
Hannah – It’s sort of full circle. We realise that we also need other people’s help. We are open with our things, not just to benefit other people learning these processes like 3D rendering and the different style of pattern making, but also we’ve come up against the restrictions of some of the technology that we’re using and we would like as a group if we could all move forward.
We’re not just being generous; it’s so we can continue to use this and that the developments that we’ve seen that we need can also happen.
How exactly does the production side of things work?
Rickard – Before we produce anything, before even having a sample in the right fabric, we make photorealistic rendered images of the garment. When we have that image, we start selling the garment online on preorder.
We would do that for two weeks and during those two weeks you’d get a 40 percent discount if you order. After two weeks we count the number of preorders we had and then we start production based on that number. We still produce a small stock, but it’s calculated against how many preorders we had. If we had 100 preorders, we might produce 150 garments. If we only had two preorders, we might produce three garments.
During production we have a middle stage where we sell things for 80 percent of full price. The best-case scenario is that everything we produce is sold out when production is done and then we ship everything.
In order to be able to do this in an efficient way, we started an in-house factory. We produce everything at the same site as we have our studio in Gothenburg.
How do your customers typically buy?
Rickard – We do sell in all stages. We do have quite a lot of pre-orders, but we still sell some stock items.
Hannah – One of the most useful things about this model is we’re sort of doing our own micro trend forecasting. If we have a product where our presales are very good, we know that if we develop that idea further for a new product that the interest is already there. Or if the presales aren’t so strong, we can say this was interesting and fun to do, but it’s not something customers are responding to, so we might not have a new iteration of that particular thing in the future.
We don’t have to rely on waiting a long time to see if something is going to be popular. We know right away. This is where the 3D rendering really is helpful. We have this short production time and we know right away when orders start coming in because we made it so that we sell things before we start producing them.
Rickard – It’s also a way for us to reward loyal followers. People who are following us and sign up for our newsletter or follow our drops on social media can benefit from that. They follow us, they preorder something, they wait for a couple of weeks and they get the discount.
Traditionally the ones who shop at an outlet store, who are probably not a loyal customer, they get the benefit. It’s also a way to try to make the worth of the garment actually grow instead of decrease over time. That we have things in stock should be a rare thing.
Hannah – If you miss one and then it sells out and you don’t get it, you’re going to think about it forever. This is a labour of love. People want to have a connection to the things that they buy. They want to feel like they’re making a good choice for themselves and for their community.
Instead of building a brand loyalty in a traditional way, selling this concept of the ideal of self, we’re actually selling something that has substance behind it. For me personally, I want to be associated with the brand because I think anyone who works in the fashion industry can get a little disillusioned with the fakery. But we’re showing that it doesn’t have to be like that.
Do you have a close relationship with your customers? Do they tell you what they want?
Rickard – Most of the time we would design things that we think are appropriate for one reason or another, but we have had examples connected to the Shareware.
One very loyal customer bought a shirt and then he downloaded that pattern and redesigned it and sent it back to me. He had some shirt fabric at home, and he asked if he could send us that fabric for us to use our in-house micro factory as a 3D printing service for what he had been developing from our pattern.
I thought that was such a brilliant concept for one possible scenario that the industry could develop into. We made him a couple of shirts and eventually we used his design for a new release for Atacac with some slight modifications.
Things like that will happen in one way or another. I often compare what’s happening digitally in the fashion industry right now with what happened in the music industry 15 years ago. There was a time when they sold CDs that were copy protected, which sounds like an idiotic thing today and then streaming and everything happened. Now we consider music in a totally different manner than we did 20 years ago.
I’m sure that what’s happening right now with 3D visualisation and digital programming in fashion will change the industry as dramatically. This is just one example of what can happen with it in the same way as when the music industry was digitalised.
Hannah – It comes back to this transparency and our desire for other people to know exactly how we’re doing it so that it becomes wider knowledge and people become more familiar with how it works. We would love it if all of our customers could engage with us in this way.
Right now, the gatekeeper is merely knowledge about the software or even the self-belief that they can actually do this themselves. A lot of people think ‘I might not be able to do this, I don’t know anything about it’, but that is changing.
People’s knowledge base is radically different. Somebody who’s 20 years younger than I am is much more comfortable with this. They spent their formative years designing clothes for their Sims characters. They know how to do this. I think we will do a lot more collaborative effort within our production in the future once people realise that it is accessible to them.
Can you tell us about your pop-up store? Why have you decided to move into physical retail?
Rickard – It’s quite new. It’s been going for a couple of weeks and it’s going to be open for a few more. It’s our first attempt of doing a proper store. We have had some open events in our studio, but it’s not really located in a place where you have a shop.
It’s connected to the technical evolution. We also see the potential of many of those things to develop the physical retail space as well. In the shop we have a number of screens, so we combine the classic small shop with digital experiences.
For example, we have a mirror with a five second delay, which means there’s a screen and a camera showing you you five seconds ago. You can turn your back to the mirror and then turn around and see what you look like from the back.
We also release our preorder stuff in the shop. You can see them displayed on the wall and every week there is something new. I think even if the online sales are where the big changes will be having a typical meeting place is still nice and important.
Hannah – The information that we have now as an industry is that people want and need a digital outlet. But the one thing that they still do is come into a physical shop to actually touch the object or try it on, even if they buy it online later.
At some point technology is going to mean you’re able to have an exact copy of yourself in 3D so that you can try clothes on at your house on your computer. But until we get to that point, and it isn’t going to happen today, it’s good to have a place where people can touch these things and put them on their body and see how they move and how they work.
It’s a good way for us, especially for people who are unfamiliar with how we design things and how that changes the garments, to be able to show people instead of just to talk about it.
We’re a company that wants to highlight the importance of the community and how things are made and why you want to buy something that’s a little bit more sustainable, why you would want to buy something that’s produced in a place where they have good workers’ rights and people are getting paid fairly. We do want to offer a sense of community and you have to go out and meet people to do that.
What are your thoughts on designing digital-only garments?
Rickard – Online gaming is more or less totally funded by sales of garments or skins. From one perspective, Fortnite might be the world’s biggest fashion brand in terms of sold outfits. People definitely care about how they look in the digital world.
For me personally, the potential in the digital tools is around actually changing the physical world. That’s when it gets really interesting. It also gets a lot harder because I want to deal with the actual world, and I want to do this in a better way than used to be done.
What’s next for Atacac?
Rickard – We are about to release a series of basics like tank tops and t-shirts which instead of selling on preorder we will always keep in stock, but we will still offer them at different price levels. This means that you will be able, as a customer, to choose if you pay full price or a discount price.
My idea behind that is that today seasons are getting shorter and shorter. I also recently learnt that if you plan to buy something online that if you go to three different online stores with that thing in your shopping basket and don’t buy, you’re quite likely to get a discount offer on this item. You practically already have the option of choosing if you pay full price or not when buying something. With the basic stuff we are releasing we want to highlight this.
The first level is ‘don’t take away the workers payment’, so you only pay the cost of production which for a basic tank top is €20 for production in Sweden. The next level is ‘I love this design’ where we add on a margin for the design and communication work so it’s €30. The third level is ‘I’d like to see an Atacac shop where I live’, so you pay €40 for the same garment.
In order to make a distinction between these levels, on the lowest level you get a plain tshirt, on the design level you get an embroidered A on the shirt and on the support a shop level you get customised embroidery on the shirt.
We also have a fourth luxury level where you choose your own embroidery and gold thread for €240 euro, which is the classic margin.
It’s being transparent about what you pay for at the different stages. As we operate our own manufacturing, we will still be profitable on the lower level. We’re testing the programme in our shop and we will launch online when it’s ready.
Hannah – It has been quite interesting in the shop as people have chosen to support the product on a higher level after learning about why we offer this type of price level difference. Most brands are willing to take a loss because they put the loss onto the people who manufacture the garment.
We don’t offer that price level because we have a relationship with our manufacturers – we are our manufacturer. Again, we’re trying to change the way things are produced. We don’t want to participate in the traditional model.
Images courtesy of Atacac