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Wear Your City

Digital prints are the future of fashion, and when customized, it means wearing prints with highly personal significance

By Stephanie Stewart-Howard on March 24, 2015

In the days of old-school fashion, print designs were created by artists and then applied painstakingly onto fabrics by hand or machine. It’s something that still happens in the design world, but in the 21st century, it’s digital printing that’s taking over the industry, and that’s bringing about changes big and small. On a large scale, digital printing has increased the way original images can be realized by artists and designers. On a smaller scale, the innovation has allowed for small companies to custom print fabrics to order, even if the textile involved is just a single garment.

Data Visualization Can Be Fashionable 

That’s where Web designer and fashion innovator Rachel Binx comes in, along with her online business, Monochome. Binx is a data visualizer, and while she has studied her fair share of art history and even had a personally created jewelry line while she was still a student in New Mexico, she doesn’t view herself particularly as an artist or designer.

That may be beside the point because her data visualization background lends itself to creating highly original fashion, and the result is Monochome, an innovative website where customers can first choose the type of garment – or home accessory, like, say, a cushion, and have it digitally printed with a map image of a favorite location.

Likewise, you can now order a tank top printed with a mapped image of your street, a sofa cushion with the image of your honeymoon location or a skirt embellished with the map of your college campus – each one uniquely your own.

Binx began her career working for Stamen in San Francisco, where she used real-time data from social media and similar sources often gathered from event-based experiences – like MTV’s Video Music Awards – to track names and references and build a visual representation of those. “Like, for example, a huge picture of Beyonce, if she’s overwhelmingly trending,” Binx says.

It Started With Triangulation 

Her first fashion-related venture, with friend Sha Hwang, was Meshu, which turned locations into literal objects, taking the shape of interconnected points on a map and triangulating those points into a shape, which could then be laser cut or 3-D printed from bamboo, acrylic, nylon or silver by a third-party producer. The piece then became a custom piece of jewelry as pendant, cufflinks or earrings.

Monochome, created by Binx on her own, doesn’t take the map point but the map itself, and prints its image onto your garment. As with Meshu, as creatrix, what Binx is doing is building a network in which the information is uploaded and shared with suppliers who create the pieces for her based on her and her customers’ specifications. She is driving fashion, but her method is creating a market and connecting it with her sources.

Binx’s formula underlines the way in which the elements of creation can be removed from each other in this day and age, and speaks to the potential of digitizing original fashion. Her customers are buying a garment from a limited number of styles and shapes, but each piece is distinctly their own. It creates a symbiotic relationship between the creator, the actual designer of the garment itself, the producer who takes that garment and prints it, and the customer who makes it distinctive and personal.

“Ninety-eight percent of my business with Monochome is custom,” she says. Very few customers are ordering more than one of a particular piece. Her business also happens to be entirely new. It began in fall 2014, when she found manufacturers doing one-off printing, even as she was considering contracting an artist to help with generative artwork for this particular brainchild.

A friend working at Mapbox working on print resolutions for maps, not on selling prints, gave her the ultimate inspiration. The notion of one-off location prints intrigued her, and she found herself receiving samples of clothing right before Thanksgiving. “It was ‘oh no, we barely have time to launch!’” she says.

Great Gift Idea

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The idea took off, and predictably, was “crazy huge” for Christmas, according to Binx. The majority of pieces centered on home addresses, she adds.

Binx’s ideal customer, she says, is someone who loves map samples as much as she does. “I had so much fun creating the originals,” she says. “I got to play around with places that are important to me – the photos I have up show prints of the last two places I lived.”

Binx still does all her own customer service. She adds that “producing custom products this way is weird, in that you’re getting something so individual, and customers seem amazed that it can be done at a reasonable price. And I love talking to customers and hearing the stories behind their choices – things like ‘this is the house my wife grew up in.’” 

“Producing custom products this way is weird, in that you’re getting something so individual, and customers seem amazed that it can be done at a reasonable price. And I love talking to customers and hearing the stories behind their choices – things like ‘this is the house my wife grew up in.’”

Rachel Binx
Creator of Monochome
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