Dogpatch, Potrero Hill Emerging as High-Tech Garment District

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Southside San Francisco has long hosted cutting-edge clothing companies.  Almost a half-century ago Esprit de Corps transformed a former wine warehouse into its corporate headquarters, ultimately leaving behind Esprit Park in Dogpatch.  The first generation of self-heating jackets were created at the American Industrial Center, on Third Street, by a former The North Face executive.  

The current fashion revolution – which focuses on right-sizing apparel to better fit wearers and cut waste – is being led by bra manufacturer, ThirdLove, in Dogpatch; and custom fit business attire purveyor, Red Thread, in Potrero Hill. These rising enterprises use half-sizes, redesigned patterns, and 3D imagining technology to create garments that in another century would’ve been handsewn by expert tailors, with nary a leftover stitch.

Unspun, with a retail outlet located on De Haro Street, is a part of the revolt against standard sizes that never fit quite right.  The startup offers denim jeans that’re sized using 3D technology, manufactured in San Francisco, and delivered to customers’ doors after they’re 3D-scanned to capture the right dimensions.   

“We’re all about empowerment by design,” said unspun’s Guin Joyce Ballard, “You can go to any major city, get scanned, and choose among our styles and fabrics.”

If it sounds like the 1960s cartoon, The Jetsons, in which the meal of one’s choosing is magically delivered from a robotic kitchen-in-a-box, well, that’s not too far off.

Jeans, like bras, may be among the most difficult garment to shop for, said Beth Esponnette, unspun’s chief visionary.  “People told us that they hate looking for jeans, and often find that they don’t fit right, are uncomfortable.”

Poorly tailored clothing is more than a personal annoyance.  The average American throws out roughly 82 pounds of textiles a year; 11 million tons of waste annually, according to Planet Aid.  It can take upwards of 700 gallons of water to create a single cotton shirt, along with the fossil fuels expended to manufacture, transport, and package it.  Making fewer outfits that last longer and give the wearer greater pleasure would be a win for the planet and its inhabitants.

The unspun process is simple.  Clients choose among three jean styles, selecting their preferred fabric and stitching.  Then, the individual steps into a large dressing room cum scanning portal and changes into skintight long underwear that enables their body shape, size, and “softness” to be captured.  It’s not unlike what one experiences at an airport screening, except it’s fully private and there’s no irritating guy in front of you slowly emptying his pockets onto a plastic tray.  Roughly one month, and $250, later, the results arrive at the customer’s doorstep.

Early unspun clients found the results unimpressive.  “I went through two rounds of fittings, and neither were right,” said Kansas Street resident Keith Goldstein, who was the enterprise’s first retail customer.  “I really like the fabric but haven’t actually worn the pants.” Since then unspun has worked to improve the software it uses to size its jeans. 

“Many of our clients want to save time,” said Esponnette.  “And they’re tired of the frustrations associated with shopping for, and mis-selecting, ill-fitting, unfashionable, jeans.  That’s particularly the case for older customers, whose bodies may have changed over time.”

San Francisco isn’t the only center of high-tech fashion.  In Portland, home to Nike, Under Armour, and Adidas, former View distributor, Elias Stahl, has launched HILOS, specializing in custom fit, stylish, high heel shoes.  “We want American women – and men – to actually enjoy the experience of walking in a set of heels, visually and physically,” said Stahl.

Most San Franciscans don’t spend $250 on a single pair of jeans. The emerging fashion movement is likely to deepen the inequality seam, with those who don’t have enough funds to buy organic products, self-driving automobiles, and personally sized clothing stuck with technological remainders.  But there’s hope; unspun is developing a partnership with H&M.  It may not be too long before everyone will have access to 3D-tailored attire, priced affordably.