Unmade is delighted to announce it has won the Best Digital Innovation at the Drapers Digital awards.

Judges said: “Personalised products are incredibly difficult to deliver at scale, and efficiently. The Unmade x New Balance approach stood out as this solves the challenge and brings a highly desirable approach that will no doubt appeal to the target consumer.”

The Drapers Digital awards celebrate the best in digital fashion and ecommerce across the industry.

Unmade, which helps fashion and sportswear companies digitise their supply chains to create custom products, joined forces with New Balance in 2019 to allow customers to create their own bespoke knitted trainers. Shoppers could make their perfect pair of New Balance 111 Knit by picking from six colourways and three patterns, and then adding their own graphics and text.

Katy O’Brien, senior manager, digital footwear innovation, New Balance said:

"Typically, developing a product [at New Balance] is an 18-month process. During the beginning stages, we're trying to identify trends that are a year and a half away. Based on those trends, we come up with a forecast. The goal is to get that forecast close enough so that you're able to fulfil demand and ideally not be over, so that you don't have excess stock.

"But when you're working that far ahead of time, you’re never going to get it exactly right. The Unmade collaboration helped us react much more quickly to trends in the market based on a true demand signal, rather than a forecast.

We wanted to do this collaboration because we're consistently looking at how we can best utilise our domestic manufacturing facilities to deliver a point of differentiation to our consumers. New Balance is one of the only companies that is still manufacturing footwear in the US. It has been really helpful for us to prove we can uphold our heritage in the traditional way of making product but significantly enhance it with technology.
Katy O’Brien, Senior Manager, Digital Footwear Innovation, New Balance

"Another element behind wanting to do the collaboration was setting up our knit programme. We were working to get our knitting technology off the ground for domestic manufacturing – we hadn't yet produced any knitted footwear at volume. This was an opportunity to not only get that off the ground but also do it in a really unique way that was more efficient than our current manufacturing processes.

Customisable performance

"The collaboration has also given us a roadmap for how we want to approach custom product. Aesthetic customisation is an important element of that, but we are also really interested in customisable performance. It is further out, but we can definitely imagine the ability to scan someone’s foot, do a gait analysis, understand where certain elements of support are needed specifically for them, be able to pull together different knit technologies, yarns and structures, and create a performance product that is catered specifically to an individual.

"We learned a lot on the knitting side, as well as how to create product that is desirable, repeatable and can be produced in a really short amount of time.

"A fringe benefit we perhaps didn’t anticipate was being able to understand how customers were using the tool: what colours are people using? How do they want to manipulate the graphic? What level of customisation do they want?

"Flexibility is key to successful collaboration – you need a partner that can react to some of the inherent challenges. Our production system is pretty archaic from the digital side. It’s a pretty manual process and we had to do a lot of “fitting in” to existing systems and overhauling what we had originally planned.

"We put forth some ambitious requirements for this project in the beginning, so it was a huge challenge. We wanted to build fully fashioned uppers, meaning that there's no laser cutting afterwards – there's no post-processing. We were still building up our expertise in knitted trainers and had audacious goals of being able to have a wide array of colours and an infinite number of upper patterns that ultimately would come out of people manipulating the graphic.

Digital innovation is important because we recognise that our consumers are consistently changing – and have different expectations. We want to be able to speak to those and provide unique experiences for customers.
Katy O’Brien, Senior Manager, Digital Footwear Innovation, New Balance

Other notable winners on the night are lighted below:

Best App Winner:  Matalan
Best Customer Engagement and Retention Strategy Winner:    Missguided
Best Digital Personalisation Winner:    Stitch Fix
Best Digital Retailer Winner:    Sweaty Betty
Best New Online Business Winner:    My Wardrobe HQ
Best Use of a Small Budget Winner:    Gandys
Best Use of AI Winner:    N Brown Group
Best Use of Content Winner:    The Very Group 
Best Use of Digital Marketing Winner:    Sweaty Betty
Best Use of Social Media Winner:    The Very Group 
Best Website Design Winner:    Dancing Leopard
Digital Rising Star Winner:    Prema Chablani, Snag Tights
Digital Team of the Year Winner:    Matalan