I have been researching and exploring the idea of designing and producing a clothing collection on and off for about 20 years. Yes, 20 years! The two stress points I have come up against in my explorations have been the large capital investment required to start a clothing line in the traditional model and the challenge of minimums required to go into production with a sewing factory. While there are some factories that are willing to produce in small quantities - the lowest I have found is 50 pieces per style. This may not sound like a lot, but if a collection has 10 styles, the first run of production would be 500 pieces. 500 pieces is a lot of inventory to produce, warehouse and invest in when one is selling direct to consumer.
Last year when I began to take steps again to find a way to produce a collection on a small and manageable scale, I approached the owner of a sewing factory here in Portland to ask if she would be willing to produce fewer than 50 pieces per style for me. She said no. Then she asked me, why not just sew the clothes yourself? I have been very inspired by other designers I have seen having success with this made-to-order model. I had considered this approach for my own business but it seemed almost impossible to build a business around a one person sewing shop. But then I realized that what is possible is to start there. To start by making the patterns, cutting and sewing all the pieces myself until I am no longer able. Until I have so many orders I can't keep up! Then I will hire a sewer and go from there - one sewer, one step and one dress at a time.
I'm excited about the made-to-order business model I have have chosen. The small and intimate scale feels just right to me. It feels akin to being an old school dressmaker. While I am certainly interested in building a successful and thriving business, I am equally interested in forming connections with the women who become my customers and other designers who are embracing this model of investing in and making clothing.
I am grateful to the successful business women who were the early adopters of the made-to-order model and sustainable approach to clothing production. In particular, I am incredibly inspired by Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin and Liz Pape of Elizabeth Suzann. These ladies have been forging a path in this industry for others to follow. We are watching and learning from them and I will be forever grateful for the inspiration their businesses have provided me.
I hope the made-to-order model and other alternative models of responsible production in the fashion industry continue to take hold, thrive and flourish. Let's be done with the waste and environmental toll of fast, throw away fashion. Let's embrace the slow, thoughtful and considered approach to producing and buying clothing.