This is the first in a new series for our blog that we are calling Q&A. Here we will highlight designers and companies that are innovative, inspiring and just too damn cool!
I have the privilege of meeting WOVNS founder, Dena Molnar, at the Martha Stewart’s American Made event shortly after she was awarded the title Toyota Maker, recognized for driving innovation in their industry. I introduced myself and just had to know more about the company. Via the WOVNS website, you can have your design custom-woven (not printed) into luxury fabric. Oh, and they started by doing a Kickstarter campaign!
A more detailed description from their website:
“WOVNS is the first platform of its kind, a San Francisco/Maui based company that is a textile studio and technology platform, giving designers access to the means of textile production.
Working with US textile manufacturers, we have developed a patent pending system for jacquard looms that enables textile production in quantities as small as a single yard. Customers simply access our selection of colors and qualities, apply them to their own designs, and submit for purchase / production. In addition, our platform promotes independent designers through the WOVNS Collection, a curated fabric and product collection that offers royalties to contributors on every yard sold. We proudly offer this collection to the design community.”
Dena was so humble and inspiring, Below is our Q&A with Dena and her co-founder and twin sister Chelsea. We hope it inspires you as well. Below, you can read about my experience with creating my own custom fabric and see the results. I could not be more pleased.
Q. How did you come up with the idea of WOVNS?
A. Our professional backgrounds are in the fields of textiles and architecture; the motivation for WOVNS has its roots in our experiences working for the NYC design industry.
We both greatly valued our industry experiences. Coming from the textile and (interior) architecture industries, we’ve seen textile development from both the manufacturer and end-user perspective. We recognized that there was a need for small scale production and WOVNS gives us the chance to reimagine this relationship between producer and consumer.
My industry experience focused on technical textile development and manufacturing logistics, while Chelsea’s experience emphasized material specification and interfacing with clients. At the Harvard GSD, I researched the ways in which changes in technology allow for a tighter coupling between digital design and manufacturing. With WOVNS, we’re combining this rapid prototyping approach, prevalent in architecture and industrial design, with the textile industry to provide users access to Jacquard weaving.
Q. There are several print to order sites, usually printing on polyester. You make something much more special. In offering this unique product of custom woven material, how did you conquer the technical side of the business from customer upload to final product?
A. Unlike digital printing, weaving integrates a design into the very construction of the fabric, yielding a textile rich in both color and texture. In other words, the design is not topical; it is inherent to the material.
This has implications for how one’s digital design gets re-created as fabric. In digital printing, the translation of colors from one’s file to printed cloth is direct. In weaving, the colors in your digital design each get translated into woven structures. The interlacing of warp (vertical) and weft (horizontal) threads, plus the ratio of warps to wefts appearing on the surface, create an appearance that approximates the colors in one’s graphic.
Communicating this difference to customers has posed some challenges. To start, we have aimed to provide a graphics based experience through the offering of “color palettes”, whereby a graphical color option corresponds to a woven result, and we have plans to continue to improve that user experience. For example, we are building tools will allows users to simulate the color and texture that will result from their graphical color choices.
Perhaps the largest challenge, and the one that we are most proud to have over-come, is in the area of manufacturing logistics. Until know, Jacquard weaving, has been cost prohibitive for independent designers and small business due to large MOQs (minimum order requirements). To solve this, we looked at all of the parameters and constraints of Jacquard weaving, in oder to arrive at solution. The result is a patent pending file aggregation system that both allows independent production with just 1 yard minimums while satisfying manufacturer demand. for volume.
Q. Is there a lot of hand-holding and back and forth with the customer on getting their fabric made?
A. WOVNS, at its core, is a technology platform with a very human customer service experience. For launch, we’ve offered tutorials to help artist and designers get started with using WOVNS qualities and color palettes. For 2017, we are building out web based design tools to make it even easier to design through the WOVNS platform. That said, we’ve found that customers like to know that someone is there to help make sure that their file is production ready, and we do just that. We pride ourselves on our commitment to working with everyone from fine artists with an aversion to software all the way to technologists that are coding their own patterns.
Q. What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen made with a customers custom WOVN fabric?
A. With WOVNS, there is technically no limit to a design’s height. Coupling this capability with Talma (one of our qualities, which as a full width repeat), we’ve seem some completely engineered designs without repeating elements, which is pretty cool. Some of the applications have also been exciting to see. We’ve seen designers weave in darts and cut lines directly into the material for apparel (cut and sew) application. We’ve also seen designers weave content for graphic design, art exhibitions and museums. Seeing the results has confirmed the magnitude of talent out there that has just not had access to the woven medium until now.
Q. Congratulations on your award from Toyota as their Maker Of The Year! How did your relationship form with Toyota? Will you be doing more work with them?
A. Martha Stewart Living and Toyota contacted us and asked if we were interested in partnering; we were thrilled at the opportunity. They have given us a platform in which to tell our story to an expanded maker audience. Yes, we are talking about future possibilities for a continued partnership. We think developing an interior upholstery for one of Toyota’s vehicles would be a very exciting project.
Q. We ask you to Dream Big with this question, where do you see yourself in 5 years?
A. What is amazing about the WOVNS platform is the ease with which we are able to scale the production of Jacquard weaving. While we are currently building the infrastructure to make it easier for artists and designers to create their own fabrics, the platform also lends itself to large scale projects for architecture and interiors, as well as retail partnerships. We see ourselves growing in this area in the coming years.
Philosophically, WOVNS is a technology minded company, and we will continue to explore ways in which to innovate. We see the potential for integrating technology into woven fabric for wearable applications. Weaving in capacitive yarns for touch sensing capability or graphics for image recognition are just some examples of areas we are exploring.
Q. What can we expect to see in the future from WOVNS?
A. You can definitely expect to see expanded qualities and color palettes, including all an all natural quality such cotton, linen, and wool and palettes with rich color and high contrast. In the near term, we’re focused on improving the platform to make it easier for people to design their own woven fabric. Think custom design tools and lots of step-by-step video tutorials.
Of course I wanted to have one of my designs woven into fabric and I did just that! I hand painted a design of beads, manipulated the design digitally to repeat as a pattern, and colorized the file according to the site specs. WOVNS offers video tutorials on this process on their site to make your part easier. I LOVE my fabric and as I launch new ventures in textile design under the brand Ed Roth Design, WOVNS has helped me materialize my creative vision.
WOVNS will be in NYC for the ICFF in May 2017! Be sure to check them out if you attend.