We're Hiring

Five questions with Chris Dowling of Unmade; speaking at WXG 7

Chris is a Senior Front-End Engineer who has been working on Unmade’s customisation tools for three years, most recently this has involved expanding their offering from knitwear to printed garments. These are created by tools and applications built on top of fascinating SVG technology.

Unmade is a global fashion software company offering a digital solution that powers fashion driven by demand. They enable fashion brands to become more sustainable by only making what is actually sold, resulting in minimal waste.

Can you give us an overview of your talk without spoiling the surprise?

When we were building the printed garment customisation platform at Unmade we came across a number of features that we thought would be difficult to implement, but actually turned out to be pretty simple when approached from the right angle. I’ll be talking about the built-in SVG features that helped us overcome these obstacles, and how sharing the problems with the wider (non-tech) team threw out some great ideas that helped us reduce complexity even further.

I’ll also talk about how Unmade are using these features, and our platform in general, to help the fashion industry adapt towards a much less wasteful future.

What do you hope for attendees to get out of your talk?

I hope that people will come away with a better understanding of some of the lesser-known features of SVG, and how creative problem solving can help produce simple answers to difficult questions.

When you’re not working, what makes you tick?

I am on a lifelong quest for the perfect barbecue, by which I mean the cooker, the food and the event. A few years ago I discovered low and slow, Texas style barbecue and since then I’ve done all I can to reach a meaty, smokey nirvana (with vegan options available on request).

I took a class on competition barbecue (just down the road from you guys, in Farnham) and formed a team, The Magnificent Cuts. I took a welding course, built a couple of smokers and entered a handful of competitions. We even managed to not come dead last once or twice!

I’ve done butchery and sausage making classes in an attempt to own more of the process, and most years I’ll get a couple of mates round to make a big batch of hot links before a big cookout.

Since my daughter was born, I’ve not been able to participate quite so much but I’m still able to indulge my obsession with books, articles and podcasts from pitmasters, other barbecue fans and barbecue historians (yes, that’s a real thing). Also I’m very lucky that Texas Joe’s, my pick for London’s best barbecue, is only a few stops on the train from my house.

Good vs Evil: Tech you couldn’t live without? Tech you think we’d be better off without?

I feel like we’re on the verge of a great technical revolution with things like electric cars becoming more widely used and autonomous vehicles being apparently close to the mainstream. I can’t wait for a time when networked cars can keep traffic moving efficiently, with reduced air pollution and less danger for anyone outside a car. Cars that automatically leave a safe distance when overtaking a cyclist are a dream to me.

The leaps and bounds technology has taken to make these things possible still blow my mind, fast wireless communication, machine learning, image content detection and the likes are things that for ages were unimaginable but now are everywhere.

I’m also looking forward to a time when augmented reality/virtual reality is fully mainstream. I remember seeing a Microsoft video back in 2008 which predicted a future where a mechanic could see an engine with all the parts labelled with AR, and could interact with the labels to show in-place instructions for maintenance or replacement of each part. I feel like that kind of technology would be the next step to what we have now, where you can watch a youtube video and learn to do pretty much anything, and with the current level of interest in VR from gaming and WebVR it feels like this could be real soon.

As for tech I’d be happier without, I think most of it is really good stuff but used badly. Like someone filming a gig on their phone instead of just dancing, or giving a child an iPad to keep them occupied but not giving them headphones, texting and driving, making me install another app when a website would have been fine, stuff like that.

As a parent — I’m pretty strongly against anything that doesn’t need to make a noise but for some reason someone has put a speaker into it. And the speakers are of the absolute lowest quality so it sounds like Old MacDonald being played by a synth band in a stadium, but recorded from the engine bay of a car two miles away. I dread to think of the number of tiny button batteries that will end up an environmental hazard.

A lot has been said about the environmental impact of mining crypto currencies but I think there’s a similar, less obvious issue brewing with the number of pointless apps, bloated javascript, dead websites etc. that are all taking up server space, power and bandwidth. With the ease of use of cloud services, the responsibility of buying, maintaining and powering servers has been totally taken out of our hands and we no longer have to think about it, but those resources are still being used and that still has an impact.

Which historical figure would you have dinner with if you could?

This is a tough question! I’m choosing 36th President of the USA; Lyndon B Johnson. Partly as he presided over a pivotal period in US history in terms of civil rights reforms but mainly because he was famous for his “barbecue diplomacy” and I’m sure I’d leave well fed.

LBJ hosted some legendary cookouts on his ranch, even having it remodelled a few times to better cater to his barbecue guests — eventually it even had a small airstrip allowing his guests — be they foreign diplomats or US politicians from across political parties — to arrive by jet. For catering he relied on Walter Jetton, the self-styled Barbecue King who himself was a bit of a character, dressed like a cowboy and often cooked a whole cow on a spit at events.

My wife and I did a Texas barbecue road trip before my daughter was born and we ate some of the best stuff I’ve had anywhere — I’ll take any excuse to go back!

WXG 7 is on 23.05.2019 — tickets available now at wxg.co.uk