Zero Waste is a hot topic, but AlphaTauri is proving that it also produces insanely beautiful fashion with its precision 3D knitting technology. The brand extension of Red Bull has teamed up with Japanese company Shima Seiki to bring their ‘precision printer’ to the European market. In one hour, the machine knits a seamless premium jumper for the conscious, discerning consumer. That's lightning speed, like the eponymous Italian Formula 1 team itself.
From Code to Yarn
This is not the first time the 3D knitting machine has been used. What is new, however, is the way AlphaTauri presents the technology to the consumer. These days, sustainability is something a brand can be proud of. And AlphaTauri's premium knitwear is anything but boring and stuffy. That's why the Salzburg-based headquarters decided on a transparent strategy in which technology plays a supporting role in the sporty, high-quality brand story.
It's all about the WHOLEGARMENT® knitting machine, an invention by Shima Seiki. How does it work? "With codes," begins foreman Ahmet Mercan, "which interact with the software to determine where the yarn lies. With this, we also integrate special functions, such as movement adjustment." Thanks to this programme, the machine can knit jumpers with a width of about one and a half meters in one piece, i.e. completely seamless and almost without excess fabric remnants.
It is even possible to have a fitted order that is with exact, personal measurements. The machine is built for this kind of precision work. "It reminds me personally of a piano, with all the hundreds of needles going up and down," Mercan says. For now, customisation is exclusive, but AlphaTauri is working on a virtual tool that will soon allow consumers to take measurements remotely.
Technically Savvy Design
The various designs range from classic to sporty and are made from luxurious, comfortable fabrics such as fine cashmere and merino wool. In addition, technically sophisticated elements are used. Tighter and looser fits do not alter the comfort of the sports jerseys, thanks to a 'motion fit' technique that prevents uncomfortable friction during action moments. "It hugs the body perfectly, but also leaves enough freedom of movement," Mercan explains. Another sports technology is Airflow, a special breathable and ventilated mesh fabric.
AlphaTauri's yarns go through a rigorous technical design process where all steps have to be translated into software language. Once this is done and large-scale production can begin, this work starts to pay off. The level of precision is very high, which is not the case with conventional versions. In fact, it is a more or less automated process that is very reliable - like a professional tailor, but on a large scale.
AlphaTauri makes fashion at lightning speed, but it's definitely not fast fashion. "The biggest advantage of our 'proof of concept' is definitely that there is no waste," Mercan explains. "The machine only uses the amount of yarn needed for the product. We have no waste material and that makes the yarn very efficient."
The quality and fit of the knitwear also contribute to a sustainable garment vision.
If you offer products that fit perfectly to the body, consumers don't feel the need to throw them away either. I think I am the best example of this myself: I've been wearing this 3D knit for four years now, and when I wear another jumper, I can see the difference. It's the comfort - the merino blend feels like a second skin, but I also notice then, for example, that the seams on other sweaters irritate. This one looks elegant, but you can also wear it sporty. You really have to feel it to understand it.
The machine was already around in the late 1960s, Mercan recalls. It's about the shift from an efficiency tool to a way to scale sustainable, high-quality fashion design. This is also very interesting for designers who want to experiment with fashion performance clothing. They can go as far as they want, because the limits of the machine go as far as the computer programme. Even designing different layers is possible. "Each piece looks like a science fiction piece," Mercan says. "From a distance, it doesn't seem like anything special, but when you take a step closer, you realize: someone has put a lot of thought into this."