We have all been there: You click on an ad offering a great deal on your current dream dress. Excitement builds as you add it to your cart, and imagine yourself in this splendid garment. But when your order arrives, you realize that the low price offered on your new dress comes at a cost.
In real life, the dress does not look great or fit well. The fabric feels cheap and has a lingering scent of chemicals. It's not even worth the hassle of returning it and you're stuck with an unwearable garment. You might feel foolish for making an impulsive buy, or guilty about the wasted resources. Whichever way, it is not the elevating experience you had in mind.
A Better Way to Beauty
Sadly, this is a common experience when shopping online for unique, affordable clothes because fast fashion dominates this arena. But a business model is evolving that offers a healthier alternative: made-to-order clothing. It’s what we have chosen for Poème, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
In this post, we compare the two approaches to understand both the problem and the potential. It explains why we believe on-demand manufacturing can move us towards a more sustainable fashion system, with many elevating customer experiences along the journey.
What is Fast Fashion, and Why is it a Problem?
With fast fashion, trends can move from the catwalk to retail stores within days. It offers cheap, up-to-the-minute style and instant gratification. But behind the chic facade lie poor quality, questionable ethics and mountains of waste. In this system, production runs on low cost and high volumes at breakneck speeds.
Fast fashion manufacturers operate in an unstable space of changing orders, uncertain payment and demands for infinite flexibility. The fixation on price and output disregards humanity and nature entirely. Its toxic effects trickle through the whole supply chain, all the way to the consumer.
Fast fashion hurts the environment. The industry relies heavily on fossil fuels, with 60% of the market belonging to synthetic fabrics. Even the production of natural textiles releases toxic compounds and microfibers into our waterways and food chain. Unwanted clothes are dumped or burnt, compounding the devastation.
Fast fashion hurts emerging economies. Brands may sell off surplus stock in bulk at low rates in developing countries. It floods the local market, threatening the survival of smaller local producers and artisans who cannot compete on price though their quality may be superior.
Fast fashion hurts garment workers. Cut-rate manufacturing means poverty wages and unsafe working conditions for millions of workers in developing countries. Unscrupulous brands are known to devalue or completely abandon unsold stock, threatening the survival of manufacturers and workers already on the brink.
Fast fashion hurts consumers. Overproduction drives overconsumption. Weekly micro seasons, targeted ads and next-day delivery keep us hooked on novelty. But the excess starts clogging up our closets and nagging our consciences. Low-quality clothes wear out sooner, spawning more waste and more buying.
Hyper-speed mass production harms everyone because it keeps us disconnected and unaware of its impact on the world. Fast fashion brands only intend for garments to last as long as a fleeting trend. Here today, gone tomorrow. In this way, the system fosters a throw-away culture that harms humanity and the planet.
What is Made-to-Order Fashion, and Why is it Better?
With made-to-order, manufacture only begins once an order is received. It means creating what sells instead of mass-producing clothes based on inflated sales forecasts. This approach drastically reduces garment waste and the environmental damage it causes. In terms of sustainability, it is the most responsible way of manufacturing.
Made-to-order fashion ranges from high-end tailoring (like wedding gowns) to more affordable personalization (like longer trousers for tall people). It promotes quality, mindfulness, and the love of well-made pieces with heirloom potential. It encourages shoppers to create a curated wardrobe of quality pieces they will wear repeatedly.
Made-to-order fashion is mindful. A slower approach to design encourages a more conscious approach to consumption. It connects us to our garments, transforming an impersonal transaction into a human interaction that requires conversation. At Poème, this starts when you place your custom order and flows through to the garment tag signed by the skilled artisan who crafted your piece.
Made-to-order fashion is fair. Producing only what sells means that made-to-order brands can work with ethical manufacturers who care for their workers. At Poème, we are fortunate to partner with a family-run factory in Bali where everyone works eight-hour days for a living wage, paid vacation and maternity leave, plus health insurance. To us, these are fundamental requirements.
Made-to-order fashion is inclusive. Made-to-order offers inclusivity by letting you tailor a garment to your individual size and shape. We have enjoyed helping women express their unique body types over the years. For example, we custom-made our Joey Jumpsuit for a taller customer with a longer torso. She could not find her perfect fit in any store, making it a privilege to help her.
Made-to-order fashion is eco-friendly. Many made-to-order brands use limited fabric stock, which lends a measure of exclusivity. Most importantly, using textiles already in circulation keeps them out of incinerators and landfills. It could be brand leftovers or textile mill overruns, also called deadstock. Or it could be limited meterage sourced from a fabric merchant, as with Poème.
Made-to-order fashion is unique. You may stand out for a moment with fast fashion, but made-to-order makes you unforgettable. On-demand production means you are getting a limited-edition item from the start. With a custom touch it becomes one of a kind. Like the customer who loved her Evalina Dress so much that she wanted another in cream, which we were delighted to source for her.
Made-to-order fashion is sustainable. Overinvesting in stock can break a young brand. Producing based on predictions is equally unsustainable. A two-way process focuses resources on quality and durability instead of hit-or-miss production. We experienced this first-hand with the evolution of Keandra, which started out as a romper before becoming a best-selling dress.
Made-to-order fashion is personal. Where fast fashion disconnects us, made-to-order does the opposite. It is not an impersonal transaction but a meaningful experience that forges real connections. It’s slower, more organic and very gratifying for everyone from designer to artisan to customer. We see this at Poème with customers who become friends and suppliers who feel like family.
Made-to-order is undoubtedly better for people, the planet and profits. We chose this business model because it reconnects us with the ideas of time and quality. It helps us grasp the worth and impact of one garment and ensures that it is created and worn with intention. We believe this is the future of our trade.
Building a Bridge to Sustainable Fashion
In this fast-paced industry, both consumers and designers play critical roles in shifting toward sustainable fashion. For brands, this means ethical production with eco-friendly textiles, which is our mission at Poème. For consumers, it means shopping with intention and avoiding impulse buys.
The beauty of made-to-order is that it connects brands and buyers in a joint effort towards sustainability. Brands benefit by cutting production waste to almost zero. And buyers benefit by receiving emotional value that fast fashion simply cannot deliver.
Fiber consumption share worldwide by type 2019 | Statista
Poverty wages — Clean Clothes Campaign
Workers Suffer While Fashion Brands’ Profits Return — Clean Clothes Campaign
There might not be as many microplastic fibres in oceans as we feared | New Scientist