January 11, 2022

The Background and Story of Why we Started Make the Dot

Emilie Ho
Emilie Ho

Even though we are only 2 months into Private Beta, the starting point of our entire journey in fashion dates back to 2 years ago.

Over the past 2 years, 3 of our Co-Founders at Make the Dot worked directly with the fashion industry. Not in, but with the industry. During that time we worked at one of the largest supply chain management companies, we met fashion designers, merchandisers, product managers, and sales & marketing teams from brands of all shapes and sizes. At the same time, we got to engage with suppliers across different countries in Asia. Essentially witnessing how a fashion product is created from end to end - starting as a concept to becoming a physical, wearable product.

Having come from the tech industry myself, I had somewhat expected fashion brands to have the day to day work tools similar to how a software designer would have. After all, you can set up an e-commerce storefront with $29 in under 10 minutes on Shopify today so why wouldn’t you be able to enjoy a similar experience when creating a new product?

I couldn’t be further from reality. Here is a little sneak peek into what I observed.

But first, a quick rundown of the blogs content:

  • Physical ideation and concept creation for brands is the norm, which left them hard to adapt when covid struck
  • Design is very collaborative, with it taking many cross-functional teams to work together to bring the design to life
  • The product value chain is still largely analog and is currently running on legacy platforms, except for the sales & marketing stages
  • The idea of a digital workspace to allow the fashion designer to organize ideas and collaborate with teammates seemed to strike a cord

Let’s start with the Why - the Journey Across East and West

I remember being in Manhattan in New York - the Mecca of Fashion - right before the pandemic and seeing the brands in action. Being in their office truly opened my eyes. All the ideation was done..on their wall. (This became a huge problem during the pandemic but we'll get into that later.)

A physical moodboard in New York
Colour and print inspo

One thing that stood out to me while sitting in some of the meetings was that the design process is very collaborative - the designer is at the core of it but it takes many cross-functional teams to work together to bring the design to life.

Aside from the ideation and design phase, I got to witness how the product was then coordinated to be manufactured and that took even more coordination - getting raw materials, finalizing the technical design, lining up the supplier. It was not too surprising that this step is also mostly offline or communicated via email since the first step was also offline.

Finding the fabric for the collection
Finding the exact fabric for the collection

When it comes to the production process, my observations were limited to factories in China, Vietnam, and Korea only but from what I saw, all of the specifications that factory workers follow are a PDF printout of a tech pack. It was these visits to the factories that made me realize the role that the designer truly played in a brand - they made majority of the decisions that went into the work that happens every day within these factories. Be it the choice of the fabric, that impacts the amount of water used to process it, or how the specific design detail needs to go into production.

I came across a room in one of the factories where the products were wrongly made - e.g. wrong seams were used, things weren’t sewed properly, etc. And these products were about to be destroyed. You probably can’t feel it through the screen right now, but when I opened that door, there was a breeze hitting my face that smelled of the chemicals used in treating the products.

Make the Dot - online fashion moodboard maker
Garments about to be discarded in a factory in South China

What I ultimately learned was that the product value chain is still largely analog and is currently running on legacy platforms, except for the sales & marketing stages. A lot of the legacy tools that brands are using were designed mainly for record-keeping purposes and were not designed with collaboration and hybrid working in mind. The core of product creation is communication - when ideas are not communicated efficiently and effectively, it has a lot of downstream side effects. Like the one above. And that’s one example out of millions happening every day. As seen in many other industries, technology can do a lot to improve the way people communicate with each other.

This is why we started Make the Dot - with the vision to improve how fashion products are being created, by equipping designers with better tools, such that they can make the best possible decisions for the humans and planet that they design for and effectively communicate them. We are starting with the first step of the product development process, which is ideation and inspiration. Being inspired by the world around us, capturing and organizing that inspiration to form a concept for new products.

Without the designers, dreamers, and thinkers we’d have none of the staples we take for granted today. Be it blue jeans, sneakers, or bombers jackets. I believe fashion is an ever-evolving mirror of society and popular culture and the key part of that is the fashion designers.

Now, the What?

After this fact-finding mission and development of our hypotheses we wanted to talk to designers in particular and understand what kind of friction and pain exist in the inspiration part of the process.

Lack of data to make good decisions on? Lack of skills required to communicate the design idea? Lack of means to communicate and collaborate?

We prototyped and tested all three.

Throughout summer 2021, we spoke to fashion creatives from brands of all sizes. We further understood what struggles they have in their workflow and how the existing tools such as the Adobe suite, PLM systems or even Pinterest were not truly fulfilling their needs.

Screenshots of people who have supported us
All of you who supported us since day 1

We then showed them our three prototypes and obtained feedback on whether any, part, or none of them improved their day-to-day work experience. Unsurprisingly, not all did. What did however seem to strike a chord was the idea of a digital workspace to allow the fashion designer to visually organize ideas and to collaborate with teammates.

With the world moving into hybrid / remote working because of the pandemic, and the creator economy growing every single day, we resonated a lot with this finding that we got from the design community. We also heard a lot of the stories around covid struggles. What started as an inefficiency quickly became a roadblock for work when everyone was banned to go into the office. Many also shared with us their wish to continue adopting this hybrid working mode even after the pandemic subsides, as such the need to collaborate and work online is stronger than ever.

Next, the How?

So then we built, built, and built. All while speaking to more and more potential users during mornings, evenings, and late at night. From the 5 ams to 12 ams. From the faulty wifi connectors to the dialers via phone. From the ones where our app wasn't built for tablet yet, to the calls from coffee shops with background music and screaming kids. We cannot appreciate you enough. You all know who you are. ❤️

Each time we built something new we showed you guys it, got your feedback, digested, and further improved the product. It was this constant iteration process that keeps us grounded. It ensured we are building something that delivers the value we promised.

And we are only getting started.

Finally, the Who?

J (CTO), Theren (CGO), Picks (COO) & me (CEO)

Now last, but hopefully not least, you’ll find us, the Make the Dot founding team (I always find it somewhat presumptuous when writers introduce themselves first…. We’re the least important part of the story).

First and foremost there is Theren, without who, we wouldn’t have met our users. He likes long rambling chats over a cold beer, visiting the far flung places of our world, and meeting amazing people with a story to tell. At Dot you’ll find him hustling, pitching, and generally annoying people enough to try out our app.

Then there's Jeremiah, J or Uncle J (depending on how much he's coded that day). He's is the person that builds our product, including all the new features you guys see, and without who, we'd have no product. There's nothing J loves more than hearing good things about the features he's built, and nothing he loves less, than figuring out how he's gonna built all the other features you guys need.

Next is Andrew (Picks), without who, none of the grown-up stuff would get done. Our everyman. Legal, compliance, support, operations, finance, IT. You name it he’ll sort it. Picks is the glue that holds us together and keeps us stable and ticking over each day. When he’s not keeping the ship afloat, Picks likes a good fruity craft beer, watching his beloved Huddersfield Town, all while riddling off a fact or two.

Finally, there is me, Emilie. As described by my Co-founders as the “forever idealist”, I think about how to solve our user’s problems all day every day, even when it feels like the status quo is good enough for some. When I’m not busy building our product, I’m usually making cool things out of clay (while still thinking about our users of course.)

And that’s us, our product, and our journey so far. Now go sign up for our product if you have not already, before Theren starts DMing or cold calling you. 😉

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