Interview: Tim Williams Co Founder at YR – On Demand Production is Where it’s At
Just five years ago, Tim Williams and Tom Hogan came up with YR, a UK fashion tech company that combines innovative design software with 27″ screens and state of the art printing technology, enabling consumers to create and print bespoke designs on apparel and accessories in-store.
Based in London YR has already attracted the attention of big global brands such as DKNY, Ralph Lauren, Nike, L’Oreal and Levi’s and now have offices in Tokyo, New York, LA and Hong Kong.
FashionCapital talks to YR co-founder Tim Williams about his business journey, advice for start-ups, on-demand production and much more…
Q: Hi Tim, congratulations on the successful growth of your business – could you briefly explain how you came up with the initial concept…
Thanks! We saw a trend for large, bold prints on t-shirts, socks and sweatshirts and loved how the patterns could be created. By combining software and standard printing hardware we came up with a ‘beta’ YR STORE – the world’s first all-over print store. Customers could come in and create designs in minutes, and then see them printed, live. We just thought it was very cool and should have a go and see if other people liked it.
Q: The business has grown phenomenally from its launch in 2013 how have you managed to grow the business in such a short space of time?
The easy answer is: lots of hard work. But more than that we have had to change, adapt and refine our business model many times. By being open to change and constantly trying to improve it helps us grow. Working with larger fashion brands means we had to very quickly adapt to meet their demands which in turn led us to growth within those customers.
Our Japan business is a joint venture and we found a fantastic partner that has enabled us to grow that market rapidly whilst not taking our eye off US and European businesses.
Q: You set up YR with your friend Tom Hogan, how far back do you two go and how do you maintain that friendship / business balance?
Tom and I met at school in the late nineties and both worked in other jobs or projects before setting up in business together. We are both entrepreneurial and complement each other’s skills. We are great friends and I was Tom’s best man last year at his wedding to his wife, Lou.
Most of the time any business issue is easily resolved with a bit of time to think and then coming back together to work out the best way forward. Then making sure we spend quality time doing non-work things keeps our friendship – Tom has a love of wild camping so a trip away with our friends is a great way to remind us why we are friends and not just business partners.
Q: Tell us about some of the fabulous technology that you use to provide the ultimate customisation service…
At the core of every experience we create is our software and we use various ways to create the ultimate customer experience. The great thing is we are taking already developed hardware (like printers, engraving machines and embroidery machines) and combining with our cutting-edge software. The clever part is really that we can give the end customer a fabulous experience but make the production of the item as easy and efficient as possible.
Q: The days of cheap as chips mass production clothing are numbered would you agree?
Sadly, no. I believe there will always be a place for very cheap mass-produced items and ultimately their value is also low, so they will create waste.
I can see we are on the edge of a customisation and on-demand revolution where there will be a decrease in mass produced, very cheap, clothing. Consumers are becoming more demanding and socially aware of their impact on waste, whilst also wanting to have unique items.
Q: We work with a lot of start-up brands here at FashionCapital and finance is often their biggest concern – what would you advise when starting out…
Start small, prove the market, know what you are good at and keep on doing it until you refine the product. Its not easy, of course, but I have always thought the best way to prove a product and help finance is to sell and make money.
Q: Is there anyone in fashion or business that you really respect and admire?
Well it may be a simple one, but Elon Musk is an inspiration in that he takes risks and really can afford to get an idea and go with it and keep on going…. It really is amazing what he has managed to achieve.
In terms of fashion and business Mary Portas is incredible, powerful, straight forward and a great motivator.
Q: And finally, how do you see the business going in the future, will we see customisation options in every store / website?
Almost certainly customisation is a trend right now – in store and on the web, it invigorates retail spaces and answers consumers demands for new and uniqueness. But, on demand production is absolutely going to grow and grow, we are at the start of a revolution.
Consumers might not even know they are buying a product that will be made when they order it – and it might not have any customisation at all. YR leads with experience but we are also at the forefront of the move towards on demand production in the fashion industry. The winners will be the brands that balance experience with on-demand to create a truly sustainable, super lean supply chain and fantastic customer experience.