WOVNS is now live on Kickstarter. Click here to visit their campaign.
Dena, you have a BFA from Rhode Island School of Design and Masters in Technology from Harvard Graduate School of Design. Chelsea, your identical twin sister, also graduated from RISD and has an architectural and interior design background. How have your diverse yet complementary backgrounds led to the creation of WOVNS?
C : Growing up we were both really into painting and used to work together late at night on art projects. I remember if Dena made a piece I liked, it would inspire me to begin something new myself. The process was reciprocal and she would work off of my ideas as well, so we each informed each other in a way. Later on in our careers, the idea of a potential partnership was natural, as we knew we liked working together and our paths overlapped in NY design world. We didn't know exactly when the right time would arrive to converge on an endeavor, but I think the thought was always in the background.
Although the architecture and textiles industries are quite different, there are similarities when it comes to the processes of design. For example, both fields drive the assemblage of patterns and systems while utilizing form and materiality to create a cohesive means to an end. They are also each creative, but highly technical on the day to day. This basis of connectivity along with one's personal voice, allows for lateral movements from one discipline to the other even when the design goal may be different. So when the right time came along for us both to delve into WOVNS, merging our knowledge of separate fields to inform what we were going to build and then working off of one another, made a lot of sense.
D: We both greatly value our industry experiences. We were fortunate to have worked for some very innovative companies. Coming from the textile and (interior) architecture industries, we've seen textile development from both the manufacturer and end-user perspective. 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, with the textile industry to provide users access to Jacquard weaving.
What is it like getting to work with your twin sister on a project like this?
C: Often we are on the same page, even while being in different geographical locations, and it's very powerful as there is minimal explanation required to get things done. It's a lot of fun and having two minds bring the pieces together can make the work much more obtainable than going at it alone. We are both really tough editors though, and as the saying goes you are hardest on the ones closest to you.
Is there something, that you can think of, in your early life that could have begun to point you in this direction? D: Our parents were both creative, and very much free spirits. They encouraged us to pursue our own path and I think there is a certain rebellious individualism that creativity, technology and entrepreneurship share. We attended a high school for the arts, with teachers that had a great impact on us, and with whom we are still close with today. Our father grew up in New York, and our grandfather attended New York Textile High School on 18th street (now called Bayard Rustin Educational Complex) and was a textile salesman. These layers of experience have definitely pointed us in this direction.
Textile design has not traditionally been a medium that is open to exploration. Most people don’t have the necessary access to or relationships with textile mills let alone the capital required for minimums associated with custom textile design. With WOVNS the customer can order as little as one yard of custom designed jacquard fabric. How does WOVNS enable this exciting new level of flexibility and scalability?
D: We started from a deep understanding of the possibilities and constraints of Jacquard weaving, then set about to translate those into a form that would make sense for people without industry experience. We've developed some novel approaches that allow us to offer a wide range of options while maintaining an efficient manufacturing process. This allows us to offer small volumes of fabric at a reasonable price.
When we spoke you described WOVNS as a “medium for exploration”. I can see this platform being exciting for many different applications. Is there a certain type of customer who is most interested in WOVNS?
D: I think the answer to that is evolving. We’ve seen a tremendous response from the fine art, graphic design, and coding communities—groups you may not expect, as well as from interior designers and architects. Ideally, we'd like to serve creative people in the DIY market as well as independent designers, and interiors firms. The small minimums allow for fast prototyping, while our knowledge of standards for the interiors markets allows for us to provide testing services and to produce something custom and in volume.
Does WOVNS currently have any limitations for certain industries (hospitality for instance) and how are you working with these limitations?
C: We think there are many communities that are excited to be able to design custom woven fabric for the first time. Still, offering fabric to the fast paced Hospitality and Contract industries arrives with an expectation that performance metrics have already been established. With custom fabric the metrics need to be tested each time and will vary from design to design . Should an interior designer want to create something unique for a contract project, they will have to plan ahead and allow time for both designing the pattern and testing. We are working on solutions to this including offering testing services and partnering with companies that offer production ready digital designs to license or sell on an exclusive basis.
Can the customer develop a tapestry style woven as well as a repeat?
What are the fiber contents and weights of fabric that are currently available?
D: Yes, for launch, we offer two qualities:
Talma, our rayon and cotton quality, has a full width repeat, meaning one can create a uniquely engineered design across the width of the goods or create a design that repeats. This equates to a lot of freedom. It is about 14 - 16 oz / yd. depending on the design, and is suitable for light weight upholstery, home goods, products, and some apparel. This should not be confused with a “tapestry quality” however. In weaving, a tapestry construction refers to a multi -colored warp used to create pictorial effects. “Talma" has a full width repeat, but is ideal for duotone or tritone designs.
Divan is a cotton, polyester, rayon quality with a 13.5" repeat and averages about 13.5 oz a yard. Divan ideal for upholstery and products.
WOVNS has a number of implications in the sustainable fashion industry. Fifty years ago people didn’t dream of throwing clothing or textiles in the garbage. Even a tea towel had value and was mended or repaired. Today, largely due to the low cost of fashion and home goods, our landfills are overflowing with textiles. How can a platform like WOVNS change the customer’s relationship with textiles?
C: Part of the problem with today's fast fashion is that people have no connection to the way that soft goods and garments are made. With custom fabric production, there's a personal narrative in its creation that fosters a deeper connection with the material. What one chooses to create with it furthers that narrative. Plus, woven fabrics have an inherent integrity and durability that knit and printed fabrics do not. We think this will make people want to hold on to their WOVNS fabric for a long time.
Another problem is the vast amount of pre-consumer waste (strike offs, prototyping, cuttings, scraps) from manufacturing. What are some of the ways WOVNS could help to limit this kind of waste?
D: What we are offering users the ability to prototype a fabric, keep it and apply it to their own products or creations, without the design necessarily going through an extended development arc before it reaches the market. Users also only create what they need; there are no bolts being inventoried in a warehouse.
You are manufacturing in the USA. Why is this important to you and what are the benefits?
D: Communication and lead times. Most people are surprised to learn that when I worked in the textile industry, I mostly worked with manufacturers in the U.S.A. That meant that I could iterate rapidly and solve problems quickly as they arose. Now that we're weaving custom fabric, manufacturing close to our customers is essential for getting orders to them quickly.
Also, we think that all areas of textiles and technology will converge, be it innovating a manufacturing process or integrating electronics, and the U.S.A still has a hold in the performance and custom sector of textiles.
There are currently customizable, on-demand platforms for printed textiles on the market but WOVNS is the first to allow for customizable woven fabrics. The difference may not be obvious to some customers. Tell us how the design and finished textiles are different with a woven than a print.
D: 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.
The power of Jacquard weaving lies in the ability to control the structure, texture and "surface" appearance of a fabric; the raising and lowering of thousands of warp threads can be controlled individually, enabling just about any design that you can dream up. The challenge arrives in having to coordinate these outputs, that is, the warp, weft, and weaves.
What excites you most about the project?
D: We are of course interested in seeing what users create. But we also think it's about seriously changing the conversation of how textiles are produced. Also, on a personal level, it's about seeing an idea come to fruition. We are both advocates for working in one’s profession of choice, seeing how it is done, and then reflecting on how to change or optimize it. Things change quickly— why not be a part of that change?
Not that customizable woven fabric isn’t enticing enough but do you have any future plans for WOVNS that you can share with us?
D: We were pretty excited when the head of Google's Project Jacquard tweeted about WOVNS. We think there are a lot of amazing possibilities for integrating technology into woven fabric.
C: 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 tutorials.