The Interline speaks to Sally Smallwood, owner of high-end men’s and womenswear brand Wreckreation, which borrows a nuts-and-bolts approach from motorsport and marries it to a truly personalised product design and ownership experience. Fresh off a collaboration with motorsport legends Shelby, we caught Sally in the process of investing in technology that will allow the boutique brand to take its customer-driven ethos to the next level.
The Interline: Walk us through the concept behind Wreckreation. Where did the idea come from, and what’s the spirit of the brand today?
Sally Smallwood: I’ve been making my own clothes from a young age. I studied fashion at university, and after I graduated I went to work in New York… but I came away slightly disillusioned. As I saw it, the industry just wasn’t as creative as I hoped it’d be. I’d always seen fashion as a medium to express my creativity – where an artist would use paint, I’d use clothes – and I just wasn’t finding that to be the case out in the real world.
When I came home to England, I worked in costume for a while, before I set up Wreckreation. The ethos of the brand is baked into the name: it’s about breaking down archaic or outdated ideas and recreating them your own way, so it’s very much about individual creativity and expression.
The Interline: And how does that ideal of personalisation work, practically speaking?
Sally Smallwood: We make everything in-house, even printing, so I have full creative control rather than relying on external suppliers, and that allows us to hand over some of the design to the customer. Take our Superchargers, for example. [Wreckreation’s signature product – Editor] People can order a brochure from us – a little like a car brochure, actually – that contains fabric samples, ideas, and textures. And the point of this is so they can really feel the quality of the fabrics and see the colours first-hand, rather than trying to judge everything from a monitor. Then they can report back to us and specify what they like – or even request something that’s not in the brochure, and we will source it if it’s at all possible to do so.
The Interline: So you’re building an extremely close relationship with your customers, but can we get an idea of what sort of scale you’re working on? Is Wreckreation UK-only or international?
Sally Smallwood: We do low volumes, but we’re international. There’s likely to be a lot of opportunities for growth, but it’s vital that we maintain that individual relationship. I look at Wreckreation as a tribe that every customer belongs to, and that’s really the core of the brand. It might not always be one studio, with me operating the heat press and the vinyl cutter, but it’s important that we keep that tailored, individual experience – because people who get that level of service and creative freedom are the best brand ambassadors.
When I set up Wreckreation I didn’t want it to be just another clothing company that told people what they should wear – almost like a dictatorship. I don’t like feeling like that, and I can imagine that a lot of other people don’t either. I think to express yourself fully you need the option of personalisation, and since most people don’t have the facility to make their own clothes, I want Wreckreation to continue to provide that option.
Eventually I’d like to be able to offer a way for customers to come and get involved in person as well, like visiting a Ferrari or a Lamborghini factory.
The Interline: There’s a lot of iteration that goes into making even mass market ready to wear, so how do you manage the ongoing, collaborative development process remotely with customers?
Sally Smallwood: Well, after the customer has sent in their initial thoughts, we start with a flat, technical drawing just the way you would with non-custom clothing. It used to be difficult to handle the measurements and sizing – particularly internationally – but we’re working on an app that will supplement our measuring guide videos to make that process as streamlined as possible.
Then, when we’re actually working on the patterns, we keep customers updated on the process – sharing photos from the studio, tweaking the patterns and so on.
The Interline: Overall, it sounds like there’s a lot of hands-on, traditional craftsmanship involved in doing customisation to the level you do. How do you reconcile that with investing in technology? And what kinds of technology are you using or looking to use?
Sally Smallwood: We already use 2D patternmaking software, and I’d love to take advantage of 3D but the prices are astronomical for a small business. When it comes to the clothes themselves, I’ve tried to make the process as similar as possible to buying a car, where every pair of jeans has their own registered serial number, and every ownership experience is unique.
The Interline: That’s quite similar to what the luxury industry has done for quite a while with certificates of authenticity – and that’s something brands and fashion houses are looking to take even further with private blockchains.
Sally Smallwood: Or like buying and owning a classic car; every pair of our jeans comes with an owner’s manual as well! And where we’ve previously had every pair of jeans registered in a database with their unique serial number, we’re now giving each garment its own unique identity using NFC tags, and the online presence that links to has more in the way of ongoing engagement: reading lists, lifestyle ideas and so on. That’s something we want to push further – giving customers access to exclusive events, videos, and other content that isn’t open to the general public.
Doing things this way also allows to run what we call our Wreckreator exchange programme, where people can hand their old jeans back to get money off a new pair – and we can keep the second-hand pair in circulation, selling it cheaper, and improving the sustainability of our operations.
The Interline: Tell us more about your history with motorsport and how the partnership with Shelby came about.
Sally Smallwood: I think I’ve always been a little bit obsessed by motorsport and motocross, but that inspiration came to the foreground a lot more when I looked into the business models of Ferrari and companies like them. And over time I’ve started incorporating more fabrics and materials from the automotive industry: things like vinyls and speaker fabric, both of which are in the jeans.
I actually got in touch with Shelby thanks to a friend who did a track experience at their Heritage Centre in Las Vegas, and when I spoke to the team there they loved what we were doing and essentially gave us free rein to experiment. This was building up to the release of the Ford vs. Ferrari film, and I think Shelby saw Wreckreation – and other brands – as a chance to reach out to a younger audience without compromising on their own unique legacy.
The Interline: You’ve mentioned that you don’t want Wreckreation to grow to a size where that personal touch is lost, but do you see these kinds of relationships being achievable for other brands and retailers on a larger scale?
Sally Smallwood: The idea is a really attractive one, but I don’t know yet how true personalisation can happen at that kind of scale. Although I’m sure new technology is going to play a role.
I know what it’s like to find nothing that resonates with you in the shops, but I was lucky enough to have someone who taught me to sew, so I didn’t have to buy into the way somebody else wanted me to look. If there was a way to replicate that for consumers who don’t have the luxury of learning those skills – to hand them more control over the colours, materials, then that would be the way forward.
The Interline: So you think the appetite is out there for personalised products and experiences in both mass market and high-end fashion?
Sally Smallwood: I see my clients as trailblazers, but they’re not alone in not wanting to follow everyone else. I think people in general are open to new ways of expressing themselves, and if the broader fashion industry can ignite that creative spark in the mass market – get people looking for something different that’s exclusively theirs – then that would be a great thing.