Perfect-fitting jeans exist.
Unspun, a fashion and robotics company co-founded by Kevin Martin (MechEngr’16), makes personalized pants in custom colors, fabrics and styles — and uses 30,000 infrared data points from an iPhone body scan to create an individually tailored fit.
After a person chooses their pants, which cost around $200, and scans their lower body using an app, Unspun gets to work. And as soon as this year, the jeans will be spun in 10 minutes with a 3D-weaving machine, eliminating nearly every aspect of the traditional manufacturing process for a pair of pants.
The company earned recognition on Time magazine’s best inventions list twice — in 2019 for its body-scanning technology and in 2021 for its 3D process.
Martin and fellow co-founders Beth Esponnette and Waldon Lam — Stanford friends and fashion industry innovators — have an ambitious goal with Unspun: to reduce the world’s carbon emissions by 1%.
“It costs $150 billion a year to make stuff, move it across the world and then light it on fire,” said Martin, 27, who grew up in Colorado Springs and moved to San Francisco in 2017. “And that’s just wasted product.”
The EPA estimates that of the 13 million tons of clothing and footwear produced in 2018 (the latest year with data), only 1.7 million were recycled.
Unspun, based in San Francisco with a store in Hong Kong, hopes to eliminate the mass-production model for clothing and, instead, offer personalized products through its 3D-weaving technology and partnerships with major fashion labels.
“We were inspired by the Tesla model of doing things,” said Martin, who was hired by Esponnette and Lam in 2016 after he responded to a job ad seeking an engineer to help start their new company. “We said, ‘Let’s figure out how to automate apparel manufacturing.’”
Martin’s experience at CU Boulder became the foundation for the company’s early production model, with roots in the university’s Idea Forge — a prototyping, design and innovation lab.
As a senior, Martin took a capstone course held in the Idea Forge. After joining Esponette and Lam in 2016, he sponsored the same class, engaging CU students — including Unspun’s first employee, Brian Gormley (MechEngr’17) — to build a 3D-weaving machine for the company. Gormley drove the machine in a U-Haul from Boulder to San Francisco in the summer of 2017.
Martin’s longtime friend Stephen Thoma (CompSci’16) joined Unspun as software director and created the scanning algorithm and software, first funded by a National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation and Research grant.
HAX, a venture capital firm in Shenzhen, China, was also an early Unspun supporter and trained Martin and Gormley for four months in China in the fall of 2017 to help build a more advanced 3D-weaving machine.
H&M became an early collaborator in 2018, offering a line of customizable jeans. By 2019, customers could purchase jeans directly from Unspun’s website, and the company gained traction.
This year, with more than $7.5 million in seed funding and 20 employees, Unspun aims to unveil its 3D-weaving technology in partnership with yet-to-be-announced major fashion labels.
The founders keep their 1% goal at the forefront of the business.
“To get to the impact and scale that we want, we need to become the new standard in apparel manufacturing,” said Martin.
Photo by Patrick Campbell