The Rise Of Made To Order Fashion: Are Made To Order Brands Retail’s Solution?

The Rise Of Made To Order Fashion: Are Made To Order Brands Retail's Solution?


There's a new breed of small, slow, sustainable, and size-inclusive fashion brands making their way into the mainstream

There's a new breed of small, slow, sustainable, and size-inclusive fashion brands making their way into the mainstream

A couple of weeks ago, a New York Times article entitled Sweatpants Foreverswirled the fashionsphere.

The piece – which uses small and agile leisurewear brand Entireworld and its founder Scott Sternberg as the model for fashion brands resisting the current perils of retail – charts the fashion industry’s recession, catalysed by the pandemic.

It argues that fashion’s fast pace, number of seasons, the unfavourable wholesale deals brands often sign with online retailers and department stores, the 2008 recession, the rise of social media and a global pandemic has meant that ‘fashion seemed to slowly annihilate itself.’

While brands like J. Crew, Neiman Marcus, Brooks Brothers and J.C. Penney filed for bankruptcy over the last few months, the article explains, Entireworld, with its direct to consumer model and perennial styles, has thrived.

But, there is another breed of fashion organisation similarly flourishing under lockdown: ‘made to order’ brands.

Doing exactly what they say on the tin – making clothes only as and when they are ordered – these brands’ business structures not only solve many of the fashion industry’s aforementioned problems (the unfeasibly fast pace, paired with newfound pressure to create and produce more and more quantitatively), but also some issues relatively new to public discourse. Namely, fashion’s exclusivity (particularly regarding sizing) and significant contribution to the climate crisis.

‘It’s a far more ethical and sustainable approach because there is no overproduction, reducing the risk of excess unwanted stock going to landfill.’ Emma Slade Edmondson, founder of ESE Consultancy which helps brands ‘harness social and environmental good’, said of the made to order model. ‘It avoids encouraging a culture of wanting more and more newness at rapid speed,’ she continued, ‘Instead, it promotes slow fashion, quality and the love for one well-made piece that can become an heirloom.’

Where Did Made To Order Fashion Go?

Of course, the concept is nothing new. Up until the mid-to-late 20th Century, Western consumers either making their own clothes, or purchasing items made uniquely for themselves, was the norm.

However, with the dawn of fast fashion (a difficult date to pinpoint, but author Lauren Bravo estimates the 1960s in her book How To Break Up With Fast Fashion: ‘The 60s spawned Inditex, which owns Zara, and Chelsea Girl, now River Island. They saw Paco Rabanne make disposable dresses from paper, and revived dandyism as a youth pastime for men and women alike’) and the the offshoring of clothes manufacturing to developing countries (started in earnest in the 1980s), came a distinct shift in the average shopper’s relationship with their own clothes and how they are made.

An intimate understanding of a piece of clothing’s worth, with value placed on its longevity or quality, was largely replaced with a (somewhat understandable) desire for low cost and volume, leading to cut-cost manufacturing (bad quality, bad ethics, and bad practice) and a throw-away attitude to our clothes (meaning waste, waste, and more waste).

This is a generalisation of course. Bespoke and couture fashion has continued to exist for those who can afford it, and not everyone has prescribed to the same level of consumption, but looking at the stats (be it textile waste, worker’s wages, or CO2 emissions), it’s unfortunately a fair assessment that fast fashion reigns supreme.

The New Age Of Made To Order

Cue a new generation, largely birthed by Instagram, of small fashion brands attempting to bring bespoke clothing back to the mainstream.

Businesses like MaisonCléo (founded in 2016 with 79.1k Instagram followerscurrently), By Megan Crosby (founded in 2019 with 29.9k Instagram followerscurrently), and Olivia Rose The Label (founded in 2017 with 44k Instagram followers currently) are rapidly increasing in popularity, but not, notably, in scale.

‘The process of making to measure for some brands can take up to three months, there will certainly be no competing with next day delivery offerings, and it’s a difficult operation to truly scale. But I think especially for those going into it with a more sustainable fashion future in mind, that really is the point’, Slade explained.