Inside the Collection

Algorithms and fashion on demand – an interview with Citizen Wolf

Woman with display of 3 steps - choose style, pick fabric, custom fit
Citizen Wolf clothing is made on demand using the customer’s specifications and ‘Magic Fit’ algorithm. Photo courtesy Citizen Wolf

The Good Design Awards 2018: Fashion Revolution Australia exhibition features four Australian labels illustrating some of the principles promoted by Fashion Revolution Australia, including considered (or conscious) sourcing of materials, upcycling and transparent supply chains.

One of these labels is Sydney-based Citizen Wolf, founded by entrepreneurs Zoltan Csaki and Eric Phu, which is focused on local, ethical and sustainable clothing production. Their clothing is cut and sewn on demand in their micro-factory using the customer’s specifications and ‘Magic Fit’ algorithm. Their fabrics are sourced from Ethical Clothing Australia accredited mills and made from natural, biodegradable fibres, such as cruelty-free pure merino wool and Australian Super Cotton™.

Citizen Wolf clothing on display - white dress and scarf on female mannequin, black hoodie on male mannequin
Citizen Wolf Australian Super Cotton™ hoodie, Australian cruelty-free merino dress and zero-waste scarf on display in Good Design Awards 2018: Fashion Revolution Australia. Photo: Ryan Hernandez, MAAS

In this interview Zoltan Csaki reveals the beginnings and ideals of Citizen Wolf and the advantages of clothing made on demand.

What prompted you to establish Citizen Wolf?  

Eric and I met in an advertising agency many moons ago. He was on the strategy side, I was on the creative side. Citizen Wolf was the genesis of a semi-flippant comment on his part. He is short and struggles to find clothes that fit and literally has to get everything he buys altered. He said, ‘Why is it so hard to find clothes that fit? If I want a tailored suit, I can go and get it sorted. But if I want a pair of jeans or a t-shirt, just the clothes that I wear every day, it is nearly impossible.’

We definitely set out to solve the fit problem, first and foremost. But then we realised that the planet cannot sustain more fashion brands, producing more clothing, that people may or may not buy. So we thought, maybe there is a better way. How about we flip it and make it a demand-led business, so that we don’t make anything unless somebody buys it? In our thinking at least, that’s a much better way to approach the business model but also one of the fundamental macro problems with the industry, which is oversupply.

Full length portrait of Citizen Wolf founders Zoltan Csaki and Eric Phu
Citizen Wolf co-founders Zoltan Csaki (left) and Eric Phu (right). Photo courtesy Citizen Wolf

Can you tell us about your ‘Magic Fit’ algorithm?

For the first 18 months, we did not have the algorithm and you did have to come into the shop and try a t-shirt on and then we would calibrate. We did that to learn all the things that we needed to know and to build the data set that allowed us to create the algorithm. That is, 3 or 4 pieces of biometric data, things that everybody knows – height, weight, age and bra size for women. From those pieces of data we can create a mathematical model of your body that’s about 95% accurate. The more data it gets, the smarter and more accurate it becomes.

Clipboards showing customer specifications and design options
Personalisation – each piece is made according to the customer’s specifications. Photo: MAAS

The Good Design Awards 2018: Fashion Revolution Australia exhibition has three of your pieces on display – an Australian Super Cotton™ hoodie, Australian cruelty-free merino dress and zero-waste scarf. Can you describe how you source materials and produce garments in your Sydney factory? What happens to your production offcuts?

As we work on a customised, single piece production framework, we have to make things individually. We struggled for a long time to find makers who wanted to work with us in the way we knew it could be done. The outcome was we had to create our own factory and the nice thing about that is you can control all the little bits of it. As we’ve gone on this journey we’ve consciously moved to being much more focused on ethics and sustainability.

We work very hard to source beautiful fabrics and we firmly believe that natural fibres are the best.  The Australian Super Cotton™ is something we’re really excited and passionate about. It comes from a grower called Glenn Rogan up in St George, south-west Queensland and it uses about 50% less water than normal cotton. Further to that, this one was processed in Australia too. We call it ‘seed to stitch’ – it’s never left the country and it’s very unusual, as that middle part of fabric processing [the spinning of yarn] all went off shore. But we’re very conscious to work with Australian mills and almost all our fabrics are knitted in Melbourne.

Woman laying out white fabric
Laying out fabric to be laser cut in the Citizen Wolf micro-factory. Photo courtesy Citizen Wolf

We make everything in Sydney and what happens is that your Magic Fit algorithm feeds a dynamic pattern generator that we built, and that in turn feeds a laser cutter. We lay the fabric out and it is laser cut with millimetre accuracy, then it is sewn by hand, as almost every garment is.

We have a zero-waste policy and we work hard to make sure nothing goes to landfill. One of the ways we do that is by patchworking up the offcuts from the t-shirts. From that patchwork we can make a few things – the scarf is one of them but we also do the zero-waste totes and a few other bits and pieces.

Screen showing sleeve pattern pieces to be cut by laser
Pattern pieces to be laser cut in the Citizen Wolf micro-factory. Photo courtesy Citizen Wolf

Part of Fashion Revolution’s mission is to work towards a safer, cleaner and fairer future for fashion. What does an ideal future for fashion look like to you?

The biggest problem that we see in fashion is waste. So the world, in our opinion, needs to move towards on-demand production. I think the ability to remove all the compromise and create exactly what you want and then have the digitally powered factory that allows it to be produced individually for you at a cost that’s not prohibitive – that is the future of fashion.

The Good Design Awards 2018: Fashion Revolution Australia exhibition is on at the Powerhouse Museum until 17 March 2019.

Alysha Buss, Assistant Curator, March 2019

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *