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Ryan McKillop runs a fascinating operation at McKillop U/W. Social media is deeply integrated into his design process enabling him to produce and change products in line with his customers feedback, yet he produces his truly unique underwear with classic, almost old-fashioned handmade techniques.
His hands-on approach allows him to be extremely nimble with releasing different versions of his product. In fact, he’s so far made several significant changes to his collections this year due to feedback he’s received from his customers on twitter or on his blog.
“It’s a severely premium product — there’s so much construction and elastic,” McKillop said in a phone interview. “Each piece takes about two hours: They’re individually hand-pinned, and sewn on three different machines. There are some companies that sew two legs at the same time, or are cut by lasers. We’re trying to make sure that we’re quite separate from that, which drives us to come out with some really unique stuff that nobody else would make.”
By remaining on the boutique/couture side of the spectrum, McKillop is able to impart an attention to detail that would seem impossible from a larger industrially-sourced brand. His funky one-offs like last month’s Sweater Jock and this month’s Denim Jock are the result. They manufacture the items after ordering, too — they don’t run into a warehouse and grab a box off the shelf. “The reason we do this is to allow a longer life of the fabrics and elastics for the customers. It takes a little longer to receive a Mckillop, but it is worth the wait,” he said.
“I was trained in classic fashion design, and that informs the finishings that I use,” explains McKillop. “I don’t want to change that. I use old techniques by hand. Also, everyone in the industry is doing the exact same thing and I think that its tired. My aesthetic is more something that you would wear to the opera with a tux, rather than to the gym to work out. We’re trying to define a higher-end line of clothing.”
Of course, McKillop knows that his customers are wearing his underwear to the gym, too — he gets feedback from them all the time on Twitter, Facebook and his blog. But that doesn’t faze him. “The fun part is my customers make more of the rules than I do – I listen on all the channels. I just adapt and change.”
“We have a very close-knit customer base,” McKillop said. “All the people on twitter, anyone that messages me, I’ll engage with them. A lot of the design elements have been a result of those conversations. When people say things on the blog, or polls, we’ll change the product. We’re our own factory.”
“I’m very old school as a person,” he goes on. “I still believe that people spend time getting dressed. The branding within my head and what I’m creating.. its still going to be a brand that’s designed for that — designed for a luxury customer base that wants a premium good.”
As for the customer responsiveness, “That’s how it should be done,” he opines. “And if its not being done by the bigger companies, then that’s a mistake. You have to listen to your customers. Quite honestly, my customers steer McKillop in different directions. I had no idea I’d be making butt lifters — I liked it, they made me feel great, but it turned out that that’s what my customers want, too. So that’s where I am.”
Even though it could seem that by listening to customers so much, McKillop might lose its own vision and focus, it turns out that the opposite is true. McKillop says that “the brand changes every day. We just learn as we go along. We learn from mistakes and we get better. At the very beginning, I spent so much time trying to figure out what the identity is, [but] it’s like self-discovery as you go along. At this point, three years into it, it kinda seems real simple that the brand has turned into so much of myself. The more I’m true to myself, the better the brand is performing.”