UO HACKTIVE: WOOLLAA

April 13, 2016

A celebration of talented creatives and entrepreneurial initiatives, UO HACKTIVE is a community of creators.

UO HACKTIVE acts as a global creative cloud, pushing boundaries and pioneering new technology. It is a celebration of independent practices; the space where art overlaps with music, fashion and tech. Digitally enabled, we are searching, finding, gathering and sharing alternative visions.


We caught up with Woollaa, one of the vendors who will be showcasing at our first UO HACKTIVE event, to find out what a typical day at HQ looks like, their design inspirations and what they have planned for 2016 and beyond.

UO: Can you tell us a little about Woollaa and how it works?

Woollaa is an industrial knitting machine connected to the internet. On our website, people can design their own scarves (we will be introducing other knitwear shortly) and send it to our knitting machine with the push of a button. You can manipulate colours, patterns and text to create your own unique piece which is manufactured just for you, on demand. There’s an option to work with adaptable templates made by designers, illustrators and coders or choose to upload an original idea made from scratch.

The first edition was launched in November last year and is called ShareSchal – a 4.5 km long generative pattern wich is based on the DNA of the famous cloned sheep „Dolly“. Every order is a unique piece. For the second edition of WWWinter, we opened the platform for 16 designers to design their own favourite scarf and upload it to the site. WWWinter was curated by the design collective „Very Very Contemporary“ in Germany.



UO: Where did the concept for Woollaa come from?

We have always been interested in open design, algorithms and machines. We also love the idea of collaboration. Two years ago we developed a music instrument for unmusical people with the Berlin studio, „syntop.io“ . And last year we built a robot with „milz.it“, also from Berlin, which can draw personalized infographics using water colours.

Networks and computers are changing everything and will definitely change the design and manufacturing of fashion. We thought it would be interesting to not only collaborate with other designers and coders, but also bring the users of design into the equation. Then we saw a YouTube video of two hackers manipulating a manual knitting machine and the rest was two years of hard work and finding the right partners. Woollaa is a collaboration with Rico, one of Germany’s major retailers for wool.



What does a typical day at Woollaa HQ look like?

We work on so many different projects at the same time and we also travel a lot for our projects. We give lectures and workshops all over Europe. We are like jugglers handling seven balls at a time when really, you can only hold two balls in your hand at the same time. The trick is to keep the five others constantly moving through the air.

UO: What shapes, colours and textures are inspiring you right now?

A few weeks ago we came across this website called Seating Patterns of Death. It is a collection of seat patterns from public transport like trams, metros or busses. These patterns are designed in a way that they are as resilient as possible against dirt and vandalism – form follows function at its best. On first sight these patterns look pretty ugly. But on second sight, some of them are really cool. It is all a matter of context. We like glitches and see possibilities in things gone wrong.

On the other end, we were in Dessau where we discovered the design of the Bauhaus textile workshop led by Gunta Stölzl at the time. There is a very contemporary graphic quality in the design and a fascinating craftmanship in the way these textiles are made.



UO: What other artists or brands do you think are particularly inspiring for you right now?

We like the Dutch designer Bas van Abel in Amsterdam who is one of the founders of FairPhone, a manufacturer of a mobile phone which is produced under fair and ethical standards. It has become so easy today for designers to venture into other areas, leaving the realm of a service provider and taking things into their own hands. If you can’t find what you want, you have to do it yourself. It is about hacking systems.

UO: What is the biggest challenge and biggest reward of the job?

The biggest challenge is to stay focused and go for the long run. Coming up with an idea and building a prototype is the easy part. Moving from design into manufacturing, curating other designers, managing a web shop, writing business plans, creating strategies, building up the brand and pushing sales – is a different ball game. It feels more like running a marathon. The reward is when you go online and it takes just two minutes to have your first order in. It means that people are inspired by what we’re doing.



UO: Where do you want to take Woollaa in 2016 and beyond?

We have big plans! The beta version of woollaa.com was a learning project for us and now we want to take it to the next level. We are also working on new products which will include home accessories. In the long run, we want Woollaa to change the way things are made, based on collaboration and sharing.



Visit the UO Hactive market at Urban Outfitters Spitalfields on Saturday 30th April and Sunday 1st May. Supported by the lovely people at Print All Over Me.