1. Could you present Uni-ke to our readers? What is Uni-ke’s main aim and how does it help young designers and brands?

Uni-ke is… the tool for fashion to grow and build a less wasteful world while doing it.
I think for brands, it’s hard to scale past a certain point… and for smaller manufacturers, too. There’s this huge gap between making things for the people around you and becoming an established brand that sells hundreds or thousands of pieces a month. The industry kind of relies on this oddly centralized system that simultaneously gatekeeps who gets to participate due to start-up costs and also leads to overproduction. There’s a lot of noise in the supply chain, and production has been limited to a few countries in the past few decades.

We need to decentralize things, and I’m not talking about blockchain. We’re connecting brands with manufacturers that produce items in smaller quantities, work on pre-orders, or serve specific localities.

But the main benefits for brands are that we lower the starting costs, connect them to manufacturers and buyers in the countries they want to target, and – over time – work with their data to predict their production trends to optimize manufacturing and reduce waste. Sometimes, we also have some designers show at events like New York Fashion Week.

  1. What was the influence behind Uni-ke?

There are three of us, and our experiences in life merged to create what is now Uni-ke.

The starting idea came from Christian’s project with the Data Science Institute (Columbia University), where he was working on understanding global economic systemic failures.
When you grow up with immigrant parents – especially if they’re undocumented – you live with an entrepreneurial mindset because that’s what you have to do. You see where the system is failing in one country and another, and you become painfully aware of what needs to change. Ironically, the situations that allow you to have that perspective make it that much harder to build the solution.

In our first year as a company, Christian’s mother was deported during final’s week. Can you imagine that? Finishing up your last semester in university, starting a company, and suddenly having the responsibility to take care of a parent who’s been uprooted from the only home they’ve known in the past 20 years? The founding team and a few of the designers helped in that situation, and we ended up launching our first test version early because of that.

My co-founders Alexis (CMO) and Christian (CTO) share a similar childhood story. Mine’s a bit more complicated, but I guess I was the most immersed in fashion by the time we started. By the age of 19, I was working on my own show for New York Fashion Week. That was about a year before Uni-ke started to take shape.

I got lucky. I had a friend who was a musician from South Korea. This friend’s family was fairly wealthy and well connected, and they helped me organize my first show.

Overall, the influence was the understanding of a problem and a perspective from both sides of the issue.

Credit: Harry Umen
  1. Let’s talk about your AW 22/23 Collection, what inspired you to design this particular collection?

This collection is digital-native. I wanted to work on designs that worked with features that are impossible in the real world, and I settled on experiments with light. The digital versions of these pieces float, are impossibly iridescent, light up from the inside, and glitter in the dark.

The physical versions have some of these aspects, but I focused more on the tailoring and exaggerated dimensions I imagined would happen in this same made-up world that plays with light. You end up with almost cartoon-like silhouettes in moody color schemes and mesh.

My overall style is dark, so this makes sense. I’d actually love to do a horror-based collection.

  1. How many collections have you presented so far?

As a company, we started this past September, although we’ve done a few pop-up events before. Last September was our first official show, and we had three designers work together on a group concept to show on the runway.

This February, it was just me as a designer. It was Digital Fashion Week. Everything was still getting figured out, and the technology didn’t always work as expected, so we had to test on a small scale.

Credit: Harry Umen
Details Zino Haro Uni-ke
  1. You presented your collection at Digital Fashion Week New York in February. What was it like to explore fashion through the digital world? Was it challenging?

The technology is not ready. That was the only hard part. You get more freedom with design possibilities, but things are simply hard to process, and computers crash. At least, live immersive experiences are very difficult to host. People like to point to gaming as a marker of performance, but the purpose of a fashion show is very different. You can’t have glitches, and the materials have to flow in the way they were designed to.
I’ve seen lower resolution events, like those hosted by Stylexchange. But again, I think they’re serving a different purpose.

I like digital fashion. I like that it allows people to create things and show them to the public for very little cost. However, a lot of the “fashion” experience is missing with these events. It’s easy to zone out. It’s harder to make connections.

In public, you can have style, charisma, and presence. In the digital world, wearable NFTs and a username are all you get. Now you need money, the right accounts on the right platforms, and at least 20 discord channels warning you not to miss out on the next drop.

  1. Had you worked on anything similar to the Digital Fashion Week before this one?

No. None of the designers in our company had. Three of our designers had experience with physical shows, and I had worked on the most physical shows previously (out of the group), so it became a very personal task for me as a designer and CEO to sort of drive the company in this direction.

Zino Haro Uni-ke
  1. What feedback did you get after presenting your collection at Digital Fashion Week?

A lot of the feedback came from the NFT community more so than the general fashion community, although someone at the physical fashion show did say my work reminded them of Jean Paul Gaultier. I think that’s a big compliment on their part.

I became a confirmed speaker for NFT NYC, and the designs were included in limited collections like the one presented by the French platform Fumigene. We worked with places like VR World in New York, and the Gerber Innovation Center.
As designers, we got in contact and partnered with companies like Digitalax, Stylexchange, and even received a request from DressX (which we considered but ultimately did not see as beneficial).

The feedback was positive overall, although I think we should plan to involve other designers and fully develop an internal use for digital fashion within our platform in Uni-ke. That would be more useful for everybody next season.

  1. How did you get into digital fashion? Is it something you aspired to do specifically or did you end up there by accident?

Digital fashion week came by accident. We submitted our work and were invited to participate at some point during late 2021 -after our first company wide show in New York Fashion Week this past fall – but we weren’t planning for it to happen.
Uni-ke had definitely considered the value of digital fashion for limited collections and even within the supply chain. Part of our technology is going towards that, actually.

But we hadn’t considered making NFTs or a fully digital runway this season.

  1. Could you tell us about your creative process? Which phase thrills you the most?

I like to imagine a whole world with its own rules and then put people into that world and imagine what they would wear. Everything ends up having a very elaborate background story, and the most thrilling part is seeing everything come together visually. In digital design, I hit that point the first time I do a render within the collection.

For physical designs, it’s when I go out to select the fabric and see how it reacts to things like light and wind. I’ll generally design a core set of two or three looks, and then everything else stems from them to create a kind of harmony.

  1. How does the design process change when designing digitally?

I designed with the intent of having a physical piece to go with the digital design, so the process itself starts off the same until I get to animation. Making 3D models of pieces for physical production is just standard practice at this point, especially for pieces that aren’t too complex.
This is very different from someone who is designing for digital aesthetics but never considers making the physical things. They have the freedom to treat it more like an art form. I don’t fit in this category, but I think a lot of digital fashion designers do.

Thinking of concepts is pretty much the same thing for everyone, except that with digital assets, you have more freedom because you can ignore things like gravity, and you can create with weird materials like glass and light.
For people coming in from traditional fashion, I think it’s much easier. I think people who come from the world of art or are just trying it for the lure of crypto might have a bit of a harder time if they don’t try to learn some foundations.

What I mean is, I was able to sufficiently learn all of the software tools I listed within a week because I have some understanding of patterns, fit, color, and weight. A lot of people who started as digital artists can make very cool and intricate things on Blender and Unreal Engine, but their creations can’t be easily recreated by a manufacturer because the construction process isn’t something they tend to think about.
Someone with a fashion background is more likely to create a piece starting with patterns, draping, and fit – even including things like buttons and zippers.

Some design tools automatically create the tech pack of the piece, making it fairly easy to understand how the piece works.
Digital artists (unless they do some kinds of animation) will start closer to the outside and work their way in.
Origin and intent really make a difference in the creative processes of this space, and it affects the outcome and usability of the piece that is created.

Zino Haro Uni-ke
  1. Who was your intended customer upon creating the collections?

Haha… Me. I was making things for myself. I would wear every single thing I designed this season.

But in general, I was trying to experiment with light in a digital space and then figure out how to translate it into the physical world as much as possible. In my head, I created a world where light doesn’t behave as you would expect it to. And then these pieces were created for people to feel close to this impossible world.

And the mood is definitely fairly dark. I took inspiration from Thom Browne for some of the silhouettes, so some pieces are very preppy in their foundation. It’s just hard to tell when they’ve been adapted to that weird, impossible world. It’s like if you took something by Rei Kawakubo or Noir Kei Ninomiya and then said,
“Here. Turn these into boarding school uniforms.”
(That would be cool, actually. I think I would like to design these uniforms.)
And then there are the coats…

The audience that would best relate to the feeling I’m trying to create through this world and these designs are a combination of the two:

  1. People who feel like life has put them in a very structured environment, and this has brought some negative emotions.
  2. People who have created their own internal structure and unique perspective because the world around them has proven to be unreliable.
    When speaking practically, the price varies a lot between physical pieces depending on intricacy and materials. The range is… COS or maybe Zara on the lower end. And then… slightly below Moncler but above Burberry on the higher end.

The digital versions were always meant to be collectible and wearable digital art, so the intended audience is anyone who would appreciate them.

  1. How do you think digital fashion will evolve?

It’s breaking up into different paths. Right now, they all seem to be versions of the same thing, but the limits of technology and the origin of creators are splitting it up.

One group will focus on metaverse wearables. I think they will become a staple, but the overall hype will go down. These need the least amount of effort to be functional, and they have a high amount of creative freedom. A lot of fractional ownership items fall into this category, along with most fashion NFTs.

Another group will be AR, which is where I think there is the most consumer-facing potential. Not too much has been done so far, but I have seen a few augmented hoodies and full jewelry sets, like from the brand Aurelia+Icarus. This requires a lot of skills to pull off correctly, and I really have only seen teams doing this rather than individuals. This is by far the most creative path in digital fashion since it can include live interaction, animations, overlays, sound, and many other things.

Lastly, and one thing we are trying to do at Uni-ke, is the implementation of digital fashion assets in the supply chain. This is the most difficult to do because it requires the most detail, the most resemblance to real life, and the most processing power to build. It also has the least creative liberty, since it is tied to traditional rules manufacturing has to follow.

  1. What would you advise someone who wants to pursue a career in digital fashion?

Make sure your eyes are healthy if you’re going to do the pieces by yourself. It sounds like strange advice, but I’m completely serious. I have worked in tech and cybersecurity. Neither of those compares to the amount of time you will spend focused on the screen for digital fashion. I remember on some days leading up to fashion week, I slept at 4:30 am and woke up just a few hours later and was continuously working.

Start all your free trials when you’re actually going to use them. You don’t need to use all the tools, and definitely not at the same time. Some of these software tools are expensive, so figure out which ones you like, and become a selective expert. Learn from YouTube and company tutorials.
Experiment with materials. Digital fashion gives us the luxury to not buy fabric or waste materials, so make as many mistakes as you need. Do draping experiments, weight experiments, light tests, etc.

Build a portfolio and get verified accounts in as many digital asset platforms as you can. We’re in the early stages, and most of the platforms will fail, but it’s best to be there from the beginning.

Take the time to learn how the physical fashion industry works. Especially for those who want to start runways and events, I have noticed people in Web3 proposing full physical/digital collections between seasons – with 2 months of warning – just because it lines up with an NFT conference in New York. In reality, proposals like this are very impractical.

Zino Haro Uni-ke

Related Posts