DressCode: creating shirts which tell stories

Every product has a story behind it but imagine creating a story so attention-grabbing that it attracts fans instantly. Andy Boothman is the creator of DressCode, which creates shirts inspired by tech, for people who love tech. His designs and high-quality tailoring get people talking and his customers are so enthusiastic they happily tell people the story behind their shirts, spreading the word.

I had the pleasure of chatting to Andy about the DressCode story, how he taps into his customers’ outlook, and how he is changing the relationship people have with their clothes through his contactless payment system Cash Cuff, which enables people to pay for goods by tapping their shirt cuff instead of getting out their wallet. 

I began by asking Andy how he married the world of tech and fashion. It all began with a printing error.

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Dresscode Signature shirt

How a print out sparked a design idea

Andy said: “In my business day to day doing branding work, we’re producing lots of different things. Inevitably, a lot of that goes to print still, and one day we had some proofs being created for a brochure and the printer glitched, it went crazy all over all the proofs. There was a lot of swearing at that point! 

“But for some reason, and I still don’t know quite what it was, I didn’t just chuck everything in the bin. I put it to one side and came back to it a day later, started looking at it – and suddenly, there was something about it that really sparked my interest and I thought, ‘there’s something really aesthetically pleasing in here’. 

“I took some pictures on my phone, shared it and it started an itch that really I just had to scratch as it gained more momentum. 

“We’re away from screens but we’re still celebrating everything that people love about that world.”

Glitch: a shirt design backed by a story

“The Glitch shirt has proved to be incredibly popular, very challenging to produce as well. The people that I work with who do my printing, et cetera, they’ve never had anybody send them files that have actually looked like they’ve gone wrong!

We have a dialogue backwards and forwards about, “this can’t be right. It’s all done wrong. It’s all pixelated.”

“No, that’s what I want.”

And they say: “No, no, no, no one ever wants this. It will look terrible.”

I say: “No, that’s what I want.”

 

 
 
 
 
 
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So we would have these calls. Quite a lot of dialogue, which was really interesting, and it’s created a very interesting, I think anyway, story behind just one product there. 

“We have many other shirts in the range, but that particular one immediately always comes to mind and there’s a lot of backstory. There are many, many little aspects of it that came together to create something that’s quite a rich piece of information. 

“It’s got some humour, it’s got lots and lots of different human angles in it, and I think that’s what’s really, really important when you’re doing these things is to think about the people that you’re creating it for. As much as you might have a passion for whatever it is that you’re doing, if you can’t share that and if other people can’t connect with it, then if it kind of all falls a little bit flat.”

Clothes people want to talk about

Andy said: “I love the idea that we’re pushing boundaries, trying new things, because this hasn’t really been done before and then comes the point where you’ve actually got to share that with people. So that means you’ve got to go and do photo shoots and I’ve got to get models and various things like that. 

“You start saying to people: ‘Oh, we’re doing this and we’re doing that.’

“And they say: ‘What? Really? How does that work then?’

“It’s a lovely thing to be able to talk to people about and tell the story behind moving digital away from screen, bringing it onto clothing and then when you actually see people and you’ve got the shirts on, there’s a fantastic conversation that happens there because most of the designs are not that in your face. 

“There’s a couple, Glitch being one that obviously is quite strong, but other ones we have like Binary and Cursor, they’re quite subtle patterns. And that was very, very much part of what we wanted to do with the design – not be too shouty because a lot of people don’t feel comfortable with shouty clothes.

“But it’s nice in that two minutes, maybe three minutes into a conversation with somebody they’ll say, ‘Are they cursors all over your shirt?’ Or, ‘That shirt’s covered in binary.’

“The conversations that then spin out from that are fantastic because suddenly you’ve got this kind of common ground. You’ve got something to connect you and talk about that goes above and beyond the situation where you might happen to be.

“The first time that I went into a room and saw somebody else wear my clothes, it was like, ‘Wow, this is real and it’s not just me that’s going to be wearing these things’. And that was incredibly humbling, but also immensely proud as well to see other people enjoying what we were producing.”

"It's my armour"

“It’s amazing the different levels – from people who you think as being incredibly confident in public spaces, all the way through to people that completely shy away from it. We’ve got customers right across that spectrum.

“We’ve got people who do global presentations and they say, ‘Oh, it’s just fantastic. It’s my armour. It’s my kind of go to. I know that when I walk out into this stage and I’m wearing that shirt that it’s just like, bang, it’s going to connect.’

“And then at the other end of the spectrum, people who maybe have to do a presentation to a small group but it’s really not something they enjoy, or they suddenly find themselves at an awards dinner or something along those lines where it’s something important, but it’s not necessarily their comfort zone. And then they’ll send you a message and say, ‘I wore my shirt, felt fantastic and got all these amazing comments back.’

“Some of the emails that we receive are just fantastic. It’s really, really interesting to see the connections that people make and what it does to make them feel good about themselves as well because that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day.”

Our clothes tell us stories

“Clothes work on two levels. They express outwardly who you are to other people but they also talk inwardly to yourself. In terms of motivation and wellbeing, that can be really, really powerful and has been proven to be as well.

“So taking that little bit more time to think about not just what is it that I want to project out to others, but also what is it that makes me feel great inside is really powerful. If you go on YouTube, there are several experiments that take two groups and give them the same task with different clothing and it’s amazing the difference that it makes in terms of the mindset.

“I find it’s quite humbling to think that we can be helping people in that way with outlook and productivity. It’s really awesome to be honest, that there’s that element to what we’re doing.”

How Andy taps into people’s internal stories

“A lot of it is gut feeling, initially. So we’ll create a number of different designs, and share them with people who are in the space, existing customers. 

“We talk to them and say, ‘We’ve got these new designs that we’re developing. What do you like about them? Are there things you don’t like? Colours?’ It’s a very personal kind of thing, colour. It’s amazing how many people are influenced by football and sports teams as to which colours they’ll wear. That one never ceases to amaze me from that point of view.

“I’m fortunate that I work with a tailor who has over 35 years industry experience, and I will take stuff to him and he can be very brutal about what I want to do in terms of saying, “No, no, no, no, no, you can’t do that.” And I’ll say: “Why, then?”

“And nine times out of 10 he would come back and give me a very good reason why. There’s one or two where I will push back against it but it’s great that he’s impartial in it. As much as we work together, when it comes to designs and things like that, he will challenge me very directly about what we’re doing. Even if it’s had good reception from the customers, he’ll say: “You just can’t do that.” Or: “That’s going to be a problem.”

“We want to be giving people a product that is going to be minimal in terms of its upkeep and give them all the kind of boosts that they want and make them feel great without there being any sort of downsides. It’s really useful to have those kinds of sounding boards.”

Pushing boundaries through collaboration

“It’s allowed us to look at integrating physical tech into the shirts, which initially was a bit of a pipe dream about whether or not there was a need and a demand for that. And then through the growth, probably the first year, I would have said when we were producing things, a number of people came forward and were saying, “This is fantastic. Can we introduce some kind of wearable? What tech are you going to bring into it?”

“That started our CashCuff journey, which was fascinating because there are so many different types of wearable product out there already. Where do we bring something that genuinely adds value and utility because the fall off rate in that space is astronomic.

“You look at how many people are wearing a Fitbit and you actually talk to them about how much they engage with it. It tends to be that they engaged with it a lot for the first couple of months and then it just becomes very much kind of passive, ‘Oh, I look at it now and again’. They’re really not that engaged. 

“The same thing can be said for the smartwatches. I’ve yet to see anybody that’s using it for anything other than just push notifications, which seems like a very expensive and over engineered delivery of something very simple.”

The world’s first payment shirt

“Being in Cambridge, we are surrounded by some fantastic innovators in the technology and textile space so that’s enabled us to look at a few things and CashCuff was what felt like a natural way in, at the time and still does. We’re the first people in the world to make a payment shirt, where you literally can pay without using anything other than the shirt, it’s straight off the cuff.”

Creating a product story

“A lot of the work that we’ve done with DressCode has been led by audience data and insight, without a doubt. So personal insight, in the first instance, to give me the confidence to say: ‘Right, there’s something here, there’s a gap in the market. There’s nobody else servicing these people. There’s a heck of a lot of people who work in tech, there’s something here that we can actually do as opposed to just being another me too business.’

“And then from there it’s been very much validated by the data and the customer insights and then really working hard to try and hone good relationships with those people and that goes across the board from the end users to people who are influential in the space.

“We’ve got a lot of people who are well known within the tech world who are huge fans of the shirts. They’ve appeared lots and lots of different places and it’s an aspect of the business that never ceases to amaze me, actually, in that a few weeks ago, I met with a friend who’s regularly in London and he’d been to a world banking conference or something. And he said, ‘Oh, there was three people wearing your shirts there.’

“It’s wonderful and I’m incredibly grateful for the support that we’ve had. And we looked forward to developing more really with all of this because the feedback we get from customers is that they really love this and they’d like more.”

A product story that creates brand ambassadors

Andy paid attention to every detail of the product from the material to the experience when your shirt arrives to create an experience people love to talk about, making them ambassadors for his brand.

He said: “It’s fantastic. It really, really is. It was something that I always really was aiming for but achieving that is a trickier thing. 

“First and foremost, I spent a lot of time making sure that the product was absolutely a hundred percent going to deliver every element of it from the box that it arrives in because the unboxing is such an important aspect of these days for every purchase and it’s kind of almost that last piece of building the excitement. So once you’ve ordered, the moment that order is delivered to your house or wherever you’re at work, that last minute or two, I suppose, of the experience is probably the most exciting part of the whole buying process, I would say, these days. So we need to make sure that it really, really connected. I spent a lot of time on that.

“And then, reaching out to people I know in my network to say: ‘We’re doing this stuff. Would you have a look at it, tell me what you think?’ And they were incredibly gracious with their time and energy and saying: ‘I like this, this is kind of me, this isn’t me, and these are the reasons why.’

“And they then spread the word within their networks and that kind of organic growth is really, really nice. I’m sure there’s lots of people that would advocate all kind of hacks and stuff, but that’s never really been my sort of take of this. 

“I think that the nice, organic piece is much more powerful and much more important because those people genuinely connect with and see a connection between you and them really, rather than people having something forced upon them.”

You can find out more and buy DressCode shirts at dresscodeshirts.co.uk.

One Response

  1. Hey Rachel,

    Thanks for sharing this story – I love it when an idea gets sparked randomly and then turns into something great.

    There are a lot of gems in this piece, and some are quite meta that I wonder how you might find other places in your writing or socials to highlight them at different times.

    A great read.

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