I know I’m not alone when I say it takes more to get me into a retail store these days than ever before. Shopping online is the ultimate convenience, so stores have to go bold and offer something really special to get shoppers through the door. Enter Bottletop, the sustainable luxury accessories brand with a newly launched flagship store on Regent Street sporting a KUKA robot in the window along with films telling the story of their responsibly sourced and produced products projected onto the store walls. When it comes to fashion brands, this isn’t your average sustainability story. Let me take a leap back and explain exactly what makes Bottletop a sustainable luxury brand and how their ethos extend from the product, to the store and then the engagement of cutting-edge robot technology in the form the KUKA LBR collaborative robot.
Render of final store – Image: Bottletop
The Bottletop Fashion Company journey began in 2012 with co-founder Oliver Wayman’s mum picking up an up-cycled ring-pull and crochet bag in Salvador, Brazil – a neat way to fuse readily available waste and the craft of crochet, making a light and strong bag – and led to a partnership with artisans in Brazil that has grown into an atelier producing the brand’s signature products and developing new materials for future product lines. Bottletop bags are made from discarded ring-pulls sourced in Brazil, along with locally sourced yarns for crochet and responsibly produced Brazilian leathers that are certified ‘Amazon Zero Deforestation‘, guaranteeing zero impact on protected forests from cattle farming and grazing. Underpinning Bottletop’s fashion brand is the Bottletop Foundation, founded in 2002 by Oliver’s co-founder, Cameron Saul, which raises funds for social enterprise initiatives across Africa, Brazil and the UK.
So what spurred a sustainable fashion duo to delve into the world of robotics and 3D printed interiors for the launch of their flagship store in December this year? At least in part, for reasons mentioned in my opening paragraph – retail needs to offer customers an experience and tell a story – but also because they wanted to do something different and juxtapose the hand-made natural elements of their products with a very high tech interior, according to Oliver. “Using natural, sustainable materials would have been an obvious thing to do” he explained, but they wanted to be more ambitious than that, and offer their customers something unexpected. A brain-storming session between Oliver and a friend Paolo Zilli at Zaha Hadid led to a discussion with KRA– USE ARCHITECTS, who were already exploring robotic manufacturing, and inspired the Bottletop team to delve into this brave new robo-tech retail world. The team of collaborators then grew to include AI-build who are 3D printing interior surfaces designed by KRA– USE ARCHITECTS and Reflow who created the 3D printing filament from 100% recycled plastic. The primary purpose of Oliver and Cameron’s tech-led shop fit and KUKA installation is to use technology as a storytelling tool and to foster an understanding amongst consumers about the place that new technologies have in our world and within their business – in this case facilitating the use of a new and exciting recycled plastic material in their store design and build.
A 3D printed wall panel shaped to hold bag handles for display
The instore storytelling of the Bottletop brand begins from the window display, featuring signature Paco Rabanne-esque ring-pull ‘‘bellani’ bags and the enamelled ‘Mistura’ clutches developed in collaboration with Narcisco Rodriguez, amongst which moves a KUKA robot 3D printing bag charms from 100% recycled plastic. This recycled PET plastic was created from plastic bottles rescued from the ocean and processed into a thin printable plastic tube – a 3D printing filament. The concept is akin to Parley for the Oceans collaboration with Adidas, which used plastic yarn in trainers and clothing, but instead of spinning the recovered plastic bottles into a yarn, Bottletop collaborators Reflow have processed the plastic into a continuous plastic filament, which the KUKA robot heats and extrudes through a 3D printing ‘gripper’ attachment fixed to the end of the robot arm that prints the bag charms by depositing successive layers of molten plastic – known as additive manufacturing.
In store, working alongside the robot was Daghan Cam of AI Build, who explained that in contrast to usual 3D printing filaments made from non-recycled plastic (including PLA), the recycled plastic filament is trickier to work with and has slightly different structural properties; And here lies the commonality between Bottletop’s sustainable hybrid ring-pull/crochet/leather materials and this new recycled filament – the experimentation to develop these new materials is a long and complex process, requiring considerable R&D and bags (pardon the pun) of passion and perseverance. Oliver and Cameron have it in droves and as they talk me through the store’s 100% recycled rubber flooring and show me samples of the interior walls currently being printed at AI Build, to the products themselves, their dedication to both sustainable hand craft and cutting-edge technology, symbiotically, is inspiring. See how the product is made here.
It was a fitting choice to select a KUKA LBR robot to 3D print the bag charms in the shop window. Working harmoniously alongside humans in a collaborative manner is the exact purpose of the KUKA LBR, with its inbuilt sensors to stop on contact, preventing it from causing injury to humans and with the absence of trap hazards for human hands, allowing easy and safe collaboration. We undoubtedly have a growing dependence on technology and robots (although they are usually behind the scenes, carrying out repetitive manufacturing tasks unbeknown to most consumers), so seeing the KUKA LBR used as a creative tool to produce 100% recycled (and recyclable) products was a lovely example of cutting-edge tech enabling sustainable manufacturing.
KUKA LBR with Daghan from AI Build
The store interiors will be installed over the coming weeks, acting as a live installation, punctuated by the official launch last week at the Regent Street Store. Attended by Mira Duma of Future Tech Lab FTL, Livia Firth of EcoAge and Professors Sandy Black and Dilys Williams of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion amongst other instrumental fashion and sustainability pioneers, the launch demonstrated how fusing fashion, technology and sustainability requires a commercial, creative and academic effort. It was an interesting and enlightening night, with Oliver and Cameron proudly declaring Bottletop the first sustainable luxury brand on Regent Street.
party shots Image top: Left – Oliver Wayman, Right – Cameron Saul. Above, the Bottletop Store launch party
Oliver and Cameron are excited about building the interior walls as a live installation that shoppers can see evolve, and I went behind the scenes to see some of the 100 wall panels being 3D printed by the KUKA KR90 6 axis arms at AI Build in East London. The panels each take 7 hours to print and are individually sanded along the edges before being joined to create a unified wall panel for the store. 700 kg of 100% recycled plastic are going into the printing of the interiors at what Oli confirmed was the equivalent of around 60,000 recycled plastic bottles. I also saw a demo of the 3D printed ceiling structure which is embedded with reclaimed cans in the store and captured in the shots below.
Behind the scenes at AI Build
The interior installation in store is expected to continue into mid-January, so be sure to pop in and see it evolve, alongside the KUKA LBR busily 3D printing bag charms in the store window.
Header image and all images not otherwise credited: Techstyler