Your Next Pair of Walmart Pants Could Be 3D Woven

Your Next Pair of Walmart Pants Could Be 3D Woven

The team has also developed a separate app that remotely scans a customer’s body to design a custom-fit pair of pants. You can use it today to order custom jeans, though they are cut and sewn in the traditional way—Unspun hasn’t yet bolted the software onto the machines. Right now, machine operators choose Vega’s settings to create the product. Unspun is working on software that would translate a design into direct commands to Vega, so retailers or fashion brands could feed their virtual creations into the machine and then get a wearable prototype in minutes.

Unspun’s vision is to one day have hundreds of Vega machines across the US. A customer of one of Unspun’s retail clients would get a body scan, choose the type of garment they want, and as soon as they click purchase, send the design to the nearest Vega machine, which would output their order the same day. A custom fit means fewer returns, and because many returns are sent to the landfill or incinerated, that means waste and emissions are reduced even more.

Walmart does have a successful program to curb its suppliers’ emissions that involves energy efficiency and renewable energy projects at factories. But when Walmart VP of sourcing Kyle Carlyle visited Unspun’s micro-factory last year, he was struck first by the giant American flag hanging above the machines. In 2021 Walmart announced that it was committing $350 billion (in addition to a 2013 $250 billion commitment) to support US suppliers. The move wasn’t just good marketing—in a 2019 survey, 85 percent of its customers said it was important that Walmart carry American-made products—but also one that would help future-proof Walmart’s business.

“My team takes care of what Walmart calls surety of supply—essentially, building in resilience to how we source,” he says. He’s talking about a supply chain that can absorb shocks from natural disasters, pandemics, political unrest, and the like, and still deliver goods quickly enough to keep up with trends.

3D Thinking

Photograph: Unspun

The first step to making 3D woven chinos is completely rethinking how they’re designed. Typically, a designer will create a 2D tech pack with the cut shapes, and then select the fabric for look, feel, and performance based on swatches. But the machines require the selection of the individual threads going into the machine, plus envisioning the whole design as a series of 3D tubes. Knitwear designers are used to this mode of thinking. Designers of woven products—T-shirts, jeans, and pants—are not. “The designers are often getting to think about designing the fabric for the first time, rather than just the product made for that fabric,” Unspun’s Martin says.

The possibilities afforded by 3D weaving are expansive. In September, Unspun worked with the designer label Ekhaus Latta to create several looks for New York Fashion Week, including shimmery plastic-tape-and-cotton pants. In the glass-walled showroom, Martin pulls another example off the rack: pants that looked like Chanel bouclé, but on acid, with a psychedelic pattern you could fall right into. Someday, a designer could upload an image and have it woven right into the fabric.

But for now, the goal is more mundane: ensuring that when Average Joe walks into his local Walmart, he can find a pair of work pants in his favorite style and the right size. If it has a little American flag label, well, that’s just a bonus.

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