Did you know that 62 per cent of the Gen Z population are now demanding sustainable retail? The number comes from a recent Forbes study which states that the newer generation is now inclining towards spending their purchasing power on ethical brands. And with fashion waste piling up in landfills rapidly, this consumer behaviour comes as no surprise.
While buyers can certainly play their part by making conscious sartorial choices, real change can only happen when businesses change their strategies. What’s interesting is the fact that the answer to sustainable fashion is right in front of us. Make way for made-to-order fashion, a strategy that encourages business models to cater to individual demand only when needed. It not only eliminates fashion’s biggest problem, aka overproduction but also makes room for inclusivity and customisation. But can made-to-order be the future of sustainable fashion? We turned to sustainability advocates and fashion designers for their expertise.
By shifting business models to made-to-order fashion, brands and designers will be enabled to navigate fashion’s problem of waste. Here’s what Indian couturier Rahul Mishra had to say about it: “Today, trillions of clothes that aren’t purchased have to be destroyed by fast fashion brands worldwide. The made-to-order system of consumption, in its core intent, prevents the exploitation of natural resources while minimising the overall production of fashion waste. It allows the consumer to have freedom of choice and customisation, as opposed to trends that come in and go out at the whims and fancies of marketers.”
He further adds, “When the consumer makes a conscious investment in their clothing, those pieces remain much longer in their wardrobes. Given the present circumstances, it is not long before more people will have to reconsider their consumption patterns and consider investing in clothing that isn’t made with the anticipation to sell but created as per their need.”
How It Encourages Sustainability And Customisation
Made-to-order would encourage brands to first enable demand before exhausting the supply. But apart from this demand-supply relationship, how can it prove to be ethical? We spoke to sustainability advocate and content creator Anya Gupta for her views. “Made-to-order encourages sustainability in multiple ways: better use of time, energy, water, raw materials and money. Resources, to quite an extent, are spent only if there is a requirement of the product. Made-to-order also comes with a reduced risk for wastage and dead stock, which inevitably cuts down chances of clearance sales and encouraging purchases because the deals are ‘too good to be true’. This vicious cycle of buying more is a result of sales that help move dead inventory.”
While much of the onus of this strategy would fall on the consumers themselves, there needs to be a realisation that change begins when we’re all in it together. But made-to-order fashion can prove to work in the interest of consumers too. Here’s how: the business model addresses the problem of inclusivity and specific desires. Anya shares, “Quite often, made-to-order makes room for customisation. Since the piece is already being ‘specially crafted’, a lot of brands are happy to customise size and style for their customers. This can be encouraging from a customer’s perspective.”
With both consumers and designers involved in the process of making clothes, made-to-order can literally slow down fashion. While it can pave the way for sustainability, it certainly comes with its fair share of limitations. Founder of Doodlage, a homegrown Indian fashion label, Kriti Tula shares, “Making pieces to order allows brands to be size-inclusive but is priced higher, as each piece is made by one artisan at a time. It’s harder to achieve economies of scale, as overheads of the brand must be divided by the number of pieces sold. All this adds a heavy cost which is higher than what the Indian consumer is used to spending on clothing.”
If consumers and brands globally need to adhere to their commitments towards sustainability, made-to-order can act as a catalyst to push them to buy less and buy better. And while switching to the business strategy completely can be a thought for the future, it can help navigate and put an end to overproduction today. “If more people consume consciously and realise that they don’t need to buy a different garment for every occasion but invest in things that help both the people and planet, we could get closer to the goal of making fashion more sustainable,” Kriti concludes.