the rise of individualized fashion

“I never fit into the clothes I wanted to wear,” says fashion designer Emily Nolan, “I found the shopping process incredibly tedious.” It was this feeling that prompted her to launch her own line of bespoke suits. Nearly five years later, her brand, E Nolan, is one of a growing number of Australian fashion brands embracing custom, on-demand production as a novel way of doing business.

Made-to-measure and made-to-order models allow designers to sidestep some of the more challenging aspects of running a fashion brand. They reduce (or in some cases eliminate) excess stock; allow designers to avoid the financial pressure of producing multiple collections a year; and it means they can make clothing for a more diverse range of customers.

For Nolan, the process begins with a consultation with the customer that lets him know what the customer needs from his garments. She says that tailoring allows her to make “garments for the body and for the life of the customer,” things she describes as “the crux of a good product” that have been “diluted” by today’s ready-to-wear. . .

During last month’s Australian Fashion Week, Sydney designer Gary Bigeni announced that the collection he was showing would only be available on request. This is slightly different from made-to-order in that although Bigeni pieces can be customised, they are purchased from a range of sizes rather than being made to individual measurements.

He says that working this way allows him to connect more with his customers by taking their customization requests and knowing what styles, sizes and colors they ask for.

Both models are quite a departure from the ubiquity of fast fashion that capitalizes on the consumer’s desire for immediacy. Bigeni’s process takes a couple of weeks because she’s doing everything in-house, while Nolan’s can take up to two months, as her patterns are cut in Melbourne but her workshop is currently in Suzhou, China.

As such, they have a clientele that has the patience to wait for their clothes to be made and is committed to the idea that they are buying something original. “It’s made specifically for you, so it’s completely individual,” says Bigeni. “Not all pieces look the same.”

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For both Nolan and Bigeni, this individualization means they can cater to a broader range of body shapes and types, which is important in an industry that has a complicated relationship with diversity.

Nolan says that for some of her clients it’s the first time they have “full control” over what they wear. They can choose “the exact fabric they want, the color they want, and design the fit,” making it a “wonderful vehicle for women, non-binary people, and the LGBTQ+ community.”

She says that 60% of her income comes from selling sizes 14 and 16. By the way, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, this is the average size of women in Australia, although many of the brands that presented collections during Australian fashion week they don’t. make clothes from a size 12.

According to Courtney Holm, founder of Melbourne brand A.BCH, “The standard sizing system is flawed and doesn’t take into account the shapes, sizes, heights, accessibility or other preferences I see on a regular basis.”

A.BCH offers made-to-order products in an extended size range that has no restrictions. “We have clients who had never had a button-down shirt before we met because no shirt ever fit them in their entire lives,” she says.

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In the five years since the label was founded, Holm has slowly brought production in-house, allowing her to introduce something she calls “just-in-time” manufacturing. “This means we can keep a small level of stock for cut-and-sew knitwear and fill it with small production runs as they are sold…while manufacturing our highest price point and bespoke pieces to order,” he says. she. “We can also customize any part in stock and manufacture it on demand.”

Operating this way means that any excess stock of the brand is minimal, which can be a huge advantage for small businesses. Overproduction and the resulting glut is a constant problem for the fashion industry. Some of the world’s biggest brands, like Burberry and H&M, have been caught burning shares rather than downgrade them further or donate them to charity. The problem is so big that in January 2020 France enacted a law that prohibits the destruction of unsold products.

For small brands, excess stock can present a challenge. Holm says that from a cash flow perspective, he prefers excess fabric to unsold finished garments. “I can do anything with that fabric in the future. Once you’re tied up in garment stock, it’s much harder to deal with a style that’s not selling as well as you’d hoped.”

Bigeni says making to order has allowed him to reduce waste. It’s a departure from the traditional model where stores placed large orders for his designs and he produced “boxes and boxes of stock” not knowing if anything would sell.

Bigeni describes this way of doing business as “downsizing everything.” He previously was doing multiple collections per year at great expense. Trading a bespoke model allows you to “be really realistic about my options and decisions and grow naturally and organically” without overextending yourself.

However, manufacturing to order eliminates some of the cost advantages of mass production, such as cutting fabrics in bulk. Prices for bespoke and personalized garments also reflect the time it takes to consult with customers and tailor each garment accordingly.

Bigeni prices start at $170 and go up to $465. You can get an A.BCH tank top for $95, while the most expensive piece on the website is a trench coat for $990, though most products are on the lower end of that range. An E Nolan suit will set you back at least $1,700, with pants starting at $550 and a jacket $1,150.

Internationally, there are platforms that have launched bespoke products at scale. Menswear brand Proper Cloth uses digital tools to enable customers to design and order their own styles made in Vietnam. And womenswear brand Fame and Partners offers clothing that can be customized through its website.

Nolan acknowledges that the product is expensive, but says, “I’m trying to revive the idea of ​​ROI and cost per use.” She says that she wears each of her pants at least once or twice a week, and that she’s had some of hers for four years.

Bigeni, who is also a part-time youth worker, is also thinking about how to make custom-made products more accessible. “I totally understand that someone has to have money to have the experience made to order,” he says, “I’m always thinking of ways to improve and make it more feasible for customers. I don’t want it to be some kind of boutique.”

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