Despite working with large fashion houses like Carolina Herrera and Prabal Gurung to create 3D-printed jewellery and accessory lines for their collections, Berlin-based label VOJD Studios has remained relatively low-key since its inception. The company originally started out in 2013 as LimeMakers, a 3D-printed homewares and interior design brand that allowed customers to personalize products, but later pivoted with a brand extension to concentrate on producing smaller accessories, such as necklaces, belts and umbrella handles.
With the new direction, co-founders Christian Hartung and Hristiyana Vucheva are lasering in on the development of bold and cutting edge 3D-printed jewellery and accessories for luxury fashion houses. Ultimately, they want VOJD Studios to become the go-to 3D printing production platform for established fashion labels to manufacture small series of customized designs. We recently visited their studio and spoke to the founding duo about how the startup harnesses 3D printing technology, the importance of product-market fit and how VOJD Studios landed collaborations with some of the biggest names in the fashion industry.
Can you tell us more about the relationship between LimeMakers and VOJD Studios, and how that came to be?
Christian Hartung: At its core, LimeMakers pursues the idea that 3D printing can allow the customer to interact with products and customize them before having it printed directly. We had a big tech team at the time that developed algorithms which were used to customize products like phone cases, jewellery and lamps. We were doing this for around a year and learned a lot about margins in the market, the mass market and quality requirements. While 3D printing is currently quite widespread when it comes to creating prototypes, it’s hardly as popular in the area of consumer products because in order to achieve high quality, the manufacturing costs can get quite expensive.
Based on this learning, we decided to focus on higher price points and smaller objects. The key driver of manufacturing costs is the object’s volumes, so the smaller you go, the more competitive the technology. As a startup, you always need to focus so we eventually launched — under our own brand LimeMakers — a new dedicated brand for this market, VOJD Studios. We launched our own collection and began to work with established companies in this space. Jewellery was the first product category that we focused on… Now, we see that the biggest demand and willingness to purchase is in the luxury goods sector – and we want to focus on the top companies and industry leaders. At the end of the day, it’s critical to have a product-market fit.
You work with huge fashion brands, such as Carolina Herrera, Prabal Gurung and AKRIS among others. How did you end up landing these collaborations?
Christian Hartung: Sometimes we approach them and say, ‘There’s a good fit between our aesthetics and the aesthetics of your brand – why don’t we work on a project together?’ Other times someone approaches us and says, ‘Hey, I have your contact from ABC, we really like your designs.’ Then we get a briefing and make a suggestion based on their style and our style – usually it’s a jewellery piece, belt or some kind of hardware. Once we start designing the piece, we create different variations based on materials, price points, etc., and then narrow down the selection. After that, we do some prototyping before bringing it over to manufacturing and doing everything else that needs to be done to prepare the final product for the collection.
How much of these big-name clients comes from networking in the fashion industry? And how much from cold emailing?
Christian Hartung: It was mostly from our network. One lead usually led to the next. I mean, you need to be able to build your network, but in the end it’s still sales even if it’s through your network. No one is going to give you an important contact unless they know what you’re doing is credible. So you still have to sell it to your friend but it’s a different kind of sales pitch compared to a cold email pitch. Cold email sales definitely work for some things, but I guess it also depends on what you have to offer and how well you know the person who’s going to be interested.
VOJD Studios unveils a new collection each season. Where do you typically get ideas and inspiration for each collection?
Hristiyana Vucheva: VOJD’s own collection is based on the principle of taking the best out of 3D printing technology. So we create pieces using 3D printing technology which are often difficult or impossible to do with traditional manufacturing processes. That’s why you can see in our collection that there are all sorts of intricate geometries, constructions, structures and interlocking elements that are basically impossible to make with traditional manufacturing technologies.
What were you doing before LimeMakers? Where did your interest in 3D printing stem from?
Christian Hartung: I was working at Rocket Internet for two years before. And I studied technology management in Switzerland. I’ve always been interested in technology and its applications.
How did you meet Hristiyana?
Christian Hartung: She joined LimeMakers early on and basically co-founded the new brand, VOJD Studios, which we shaped together. She became more and more involved and eventually took over a lot of responsibility.
What would you say are some advantages and challenges of working with 3D printing technologies in the fashion and design realms?
Christian Hartung: I think the fashion industry is quick at picking up things. Some companies we work with don’t go very deep into the process while others are very interested in the advantages and include it into their own manufacturing capabilities. At the end of the day, it can be a competitive advantage, because it’s quicker, more local and you can avoid moulding costs as well as assembly costs and realize new materials and shapes. The biggest challenge is that the higher the price points you reach, the higher the quality standards. So you really have to convince these brands that the quality you can achieve through the technology meets the standards of their existing manufacturing. That’s why references are so important…
Hristiyana Vucheva: I’d also say managing expectations is a challenge… We’re talking about a new technology which is still not widely used and known by many people. So it’s kind of our responsibility, when meeting these brands, to educate them on what it represents as well as the advantages it offers so they have realistic expectations of what can be achieved and what not.