YR’s live garment customisation is bringing a new experience to the high street and meeting both consumers’ and retailers’ needs

The flagship Levi’s store on Regent’s Street in London is a must-visit destination for tourists and London shoppers alike. In December 2017, the renowned denim brand gave consumers even more reason to visit through an inspired collaboration with live printing company YR to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the iconic Levi’s Trucker Jacket.

Like any leading brand, Levi’s knows that, with online shopping sales increasing, there is a growing pressure on bricks and mortar fashion stores to sell customers more than just clothes on rails; they today’s customer wants an experience to go with their printed and embroidered products. Hence the involvement of YR – creating memorable experiences is what the company is all about.

YR started life as Lumacoustics in 2009. Set up by university friends Tim Williams, 38, and Tom Hogan, 39, the company initially marketed what it says was the world’s first digital graffiti wall. YrWall, which was mainly used at events, was created by graffiti-enthusiast and software developer Tom and featured on the BBC’s Dragon’s Den TV programme in 2010, where the duo mentioned in passing about also printing people’s designs onto T-shirts. (They landed a £50,000 investment from entrepreneurs, Peter Jones and Deborah Meaden, which they initially accepted during filming then reportedly turned down after the show.)

Tim and Tom soon realised the appeal to customers of graffiti tees that were printed from the digital graffiti wall and so created YR Store in 2013, a pop-up custom T-shirt design and print shop just off London’s Carnaby Street. The concept of being able to customise a T-shirt on a screen and then watch it being printed live took off, reports YR’s head of sales, Anton Weiss, and led to other YR Stores being set up in retail shops such as Nike, Topshop, Selfridges and Liberty.

Printed Trucker Jackets

The designs were created by leading tattoo artists

All of the prints were limited editions

The company’s events background also led it to establish YR Live, an agency that arranges live design and print events, from one-off days using ‘plug and play’ equipment to arranging lengthy campaigns complete with trained staff, post-event analysis and custom software. Numerous well-known brands have collaborated with YR Live on events, including Google, Toyota, Adidas and Facebook, explains Anton. “We do lots of big events: Mobile World Congress, Google Beach at Cannes Lions, Geneva Car Show, the World Cup in Rio… The Rio Games with Coca-Cola wasn’t a huge activation, but we had just two weeks to make it happen and getting equipment and consumables in and out of Rio proved to be a very interesting exercise indeed!

“There was also the US Open Custom Polo Shop with Ralph Lauren: we operated a live dashboard of metrics, and we were processing orders from tablets that were roaming the event, as well as from fixed terminals at the shop. The stakes were high as shirts were selling for US$85, and there were so many VIPs and celebs ordering them. Ultimately, it was a huge success and worth all the effort.”

YR offers a wide range of products that can be customised from stickers to tote bags to laptop cases to T-shirts. The decoration services it offers are just as varied: dye sublimation, direct-to-garment (DTG), vinyl, embroidery, UV printing and laser/etching. A favourite design, Anton reports, was the pop art-inspired tote bags on the Asos Global Tour in 2016 and 2017: “We visited over 50 campuses on each tour and the students were very creative with their designs and slogans.”

Customers select the design to be printed using a touchscreen kiosk

A jacket being printed on a Brother GTX direct-to-garment machine

Keeping up with new techniques is paramount, Anton adds. “Any advancement in printing techniques and speed can open up new opportunities for us. When the speed of 3D printing improves imagine what the possibilities of live customisation could be?”

Three years ago YR started using DTG. “There are some clear advantages to DTG [compared with dye sublimation], such as printing white and printing onto black tees. Bold white on black tees is a strong look and popular at the moment with consumers. DTG is a trickier process to maintain, but it often lends itself better to a premium product,” says Anton.

DTG is the technique of choice in the Levi’s store on Regent Street this December. Using a touchscreen kiosk, customers can choose a limited edition design created by one of five leading UK tattoo artists and then have it printed onto a new Trucker Jacket in front of their eyes. The jacket back prints are produced on a Brother GTX printer, which was installed by MHM Direct GB: the company also provided YR with print training. Anton explains that YR chose the GTX because it is the “fastest and most advanced semi-portable printer we have seen,” and comes with good support.

YR Live helps retail brands turn shopping into an experience

Live in-store printing of the iconic Levi’s Trucker Jacket

The company also prides itself on its software. “It’s fun, interactive, intuitive, immersive, good at data capture, good at increasing dwell time,” says Anton. “Each software we deploy is different and often custom to the client. We aim to gamify the design process and translate designs into a faithful, real-life examples of what’s on screen. It’s all about creating brand love and giving people an experience they will remember and a product they will keep.

“Consumers need new ways to engage and customisation has become almost an expected part of a brand’s offering. The importance of connecting with consumers on that personal level is not going to diminish any time soon. But we still need to keep pushing with new tech, new products and better experiences.”

The customisation experience is a profitable one: the company’s turnover has doubled each year since 2015, and the team has also expanded, with an office opened in New York, US, in 2016 and another this summer in Tokyo, Japan. There is no let up in YR’s ambition, however, and the team has a list of key brands they’d love to work with, including Supreme. “We are also working on some key projects exploring new types of customisation with a big American label that we are really excited about,” says Anton. “We expect the newly opened office in Tokyo will mean lots more opening up for us in Asia, and the US will continue to grow too.”

And the key to YR’s success? “A good team, a sense of humour and lots of hard work,” he concludes.