Tech meets made-to-order fashion for good
Fashion designers have found a new appeal in an old business model that comes as a slower, higher-quality alternative to the mass fashion market and is now backed by technology.
By Morgane Nyfeler08 février 2021
Similar to haute couture and bespoke tailoring, made-to-order fashion puts customers at the centre, manufacturing garments to satisfy their needs, providing personalisation, and avoiding any inventory excess.
The made-to-order business model gives the opportunity to be completely in control, helps prevent waste, and allows to cater to any sizes or custom orders
Olivia Rose Havelok, founder of Olivia Rose The Label
In the global fashion industry, brands typically pay their suppliers weeks or even months after delivery, rather than upon order. Last March, Bloomberg reported that about 1,089 garment factories in Bangladesh have had orders cancelled worth roughly $1.44 billion due to the coronavirus outbreak, leaving them with piles of unsold garments. A couple of months after, only 60% of brands said they would pay for complete orders in full, a decision that is still having a devastating impact on garment workers around the world.
In an age where trends are dictated by social media, fast-fashion brands and big retailers are struggling to survive and consumers are turning to online shopping, blindly producing clothes that may sell or not is no longer profitable nor is it sustainable.
On-demand production labels see their success explode
Small luxury brands are carving themselves a place far removed from the traditional fashion system and are attracting attention as they look for more efficient and responsible ways of operating
By staying away from fashion weeks and turning to social media instead, small labels are adopting the pre-order model where they produce less pieces in strictly limited runs that are dropping more often but sell out instantly. Take for example MaisonCléo and Olivia Rose, two labels offering high quality dresses and tops on their e-shops almost every week and accepting only a limited amount of orders before they start the production. “The made-to-order business model gives the opportunity to be completely in control, helps prevent waste, and allows to cater to any sizes or custom orders,” explains Olivia Rose.
We don’t want to have any stock and we rarely receive any returns.
Marie, cofounder of label MaisonCléo
Every piece is unique and handmade with locally sourced materials. Marie’s mum (cofounder of MaisonCléo) sews all orders in her workshop in the north of France with surplus fabrics coming from French Couture Houses, vintage thrifts or local artisans. Working without collections, the designer adapts her offering to the seasons and the materials found as well as any adjustments her customers desire. “Everyone has different measurements and producing on demand means we can adapt each piece without worrying about sizes,” says Marie. “We don’t want to have any stock and we rarely receive any returns.” Of course customers sometimes need to wait a few weeks before getting their order delivered, making it even more special and worth cherishing.
If both brands are so successful today, it’s mainly because of Instagram – Marie’s “magic media” ¬– that enables them to create a strong and genuine bond with their followers, while also being completely transparent about their very short supply chain. “It’s such a special and personal experience which gives the customer the chance to get involved in the making or designing of their purchase,” says Olivia. Thanks to influencers and celebrities, both labels have been able to grow independently and have built a loyal following while keeping their offering small and highly covetable.
3D printing and artificial intelligence can shape the fashion of tomorrow
New technologies are also pushing the rise of the made-to-order model by making it faster and scalable to a larger amount of products thanks to the automatisation of each process along the supply chain
. French company Lectra has been developing innovative software for the fashion industry to respond to the demand of increasingly digitally savvy customers looking for ethical and sustainable products. “3D, Artificial Intelligence, collaboration and on-demand production are all 4.0 solutions that encourage more responsible collections by putting on the market only products that customers want at the right time and price to avoid overproduction and overconsumption,” says Katia Cahen, Lectra’s Market Intelligence Director. By giving fashion companies the tools to become more agile and reactive to customers’ needs, while developing better relationships with suppliers, production in the on-demand era will become more efficient, profitable, resilient and sustainable resulting in smaller, more frequent and higher quality collections that transcend the seasons
Considering its longer manufacturing process, knitwear is one of the biggest trends in made-to-order yet knitwear company Ministry of Supply makes it available in the same amount of time as fast-fashion. Using a 3D printing machine with over 4’000 needles, garments are robotically produced in one seamless piece based on a digital design coded into a software. This method reduces about 30% of fabric waste created by the traditional cut-and-sew garment construction, and as garments are produced on-demand, dead stock never occurs. Customers can then choose different styles and colours and receive the ‘printed’ items within two days, which are naturally fitted to their body and are more durable thanks to the seamless design.
“As more brands invest in sustainable manufacturing techniques, we expect to see 3D Print-Knit expand in the coming years,” assures Gihan Amarasiriwardena, Co-founder and President of Ministry of Supply. “This technology is not only beneficial for the consumer and environment, but also helps retailers become more nimble and resilient to rapid shifts in consumer demand.”
With Covid-19, the risk in the market has become much bigger and it’s even harder to predict consumer behaviour so producing only what is needed by customers and adapting the offer to tastes and preferences is a much smarter, ethical and sustainable approach – one that can now be increased in speed and scalability with the help of technology.
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