Q&A: Tim Williams, Co-Founder, YR
RTIH: Tell us about YR
TW: YR is a customisation company and we work with global fashion brands and event organisers to deliver live customisation experiences from product launches and retail pop-ups to exhibitions and global campaigns.
We use state-of-the art design software (created in-house) and printing technology combined with screens or mobile devices to enable anyone to create and print bespoke designs on t-shirts, trainers and accessories. In fact, we’ve made it possible to customise just about anything and because the service is on-demand, it is ticking a big box in the sustainability stakes.
RTIH: What was the inspiration behind setting the company up?
TW: My business partner, Tom and I, saw a trend for large, bold prints on t-shirts, socks and sweatshirts and loved how the patterns could be created. Combined with some clever programming we created YR Store, the world’s first all-over print store. Customers could come in and create weird and wonderful designs in minutes, and then see them printed live. The influence really was that it was exciting, it hadn’t been done before and we knew we could do something incredible.
RTIH: What has been the industry reaction thus far?
TW: It’s been pretty epic to be honest, but I don’t think we’ve had time to sit and absorb what’s happened yet. In the past few years we’ve seen our client base really grow – not just here in the UK but in America and Asia – and that’s a lot of jet lag.
Digital tech is transforming the fashion landscape and it’s really exciting that we are at the forefront of this change.
RTIH: What has been your biggest challenge/setback?
TW: Making money! Actually, launching the business was straight forward on a tight budget – we even got the store just off Carnaby Street for no cost for seven weeks. We had a super engaged team and great motivation, so I am still super proud of our first store. But, making money was much harder. We could make a small amount from the stores, but it was super hard work for little return and not highly scalable. It took many pivots and shape shifting to get to where we are today.
RTIH: What are the biggest challenges facing the omnichannel retail sector right now?
TW: I think there are a number of challenges for retailers – businesses that have a large store estate are particularly vulnerable to market changes and demand. Of course, Brexit is a challenge, technically there is very little concrete knowledge about how it will affect pricing and tax of products if no deal is reached.
Beyond those, I think there are challenges around keeping consumers engaged again and again – being the cheapest, or most luxurious, for example is not enough in 2019. Consumers expect an experience. Sustainability is also a big challenge – it’s incredible that the fashion industry has been so slow in making a change to a more sustainable model, but I think consumers will demand it of retailers in the future.
RTIH: What's the best question about your company or the market asked of you recently by a.) an investor and b.) a customer?
TW: Investor – how will we keep on growing at over 30% year-on-year in all markets? This question really focuses the business and our teams, as we have a passion for doing what we do at YR and growth is almost secondary to delivering a great sustainable business. But having someone looking from the outside and asking simple business questions is a good way to focus the team efforts.
Customer – how much revenue or savings will customisation drive for my business? This is almost impossible to answer but again, makes us more focussed on the real value we can add to a business. YR solutions can add incremental revenue but by increasing consumer experience and decreasing over-supply (as just two examples) we also need to learn how to quantify what we do in all areas. Not a simple question to answer.
RTIH: What can we expect to see from YR over the next 12 months?
TW: This year, we plan to grow our team across our five global offices and we are launching some major new projects in the next few months that should help shape our business.
The long-term goal is to lead the world in on demand production of apparel and accessories and we intend to be as bold as needed to make that come true. My hope for the sector is to reduce waste, increase re-usage and make shopping more fun. It’s exciting to instigate change and I hope YR will be at the forefront of change across consumer experience and supply chain.
The future of fashion tech is so exciting I don’t think we have even scratched the surface.