Made-to-order: How slowing down could save the planet (and your happiness).

Made-to-order: How slowing down could save the planet (and your happiness)

If you feel like time is just flying by nowadays, you’re not alone – or even wrong. The earth is spinning faster than it ever has in the last 50 years, with the average day in 2021 expected to be 0.05 milliseconds shorter than normal. Mad right? Perhaps that explains our hunger to have everything faster, better, sooner than ever before. Our obsession with instant gratification has been both fostered by and satisfied through the technological evolution of the past decade. Today, just a few taps on your phone can you get whatever cuisine you’re craving delivered to your door in under an hour, and in e-commerce “next-day-delivery” is quickly being rejected in favour of same-day slots. To quote Ariana Grande: I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it.

In the context of this frantic lifestyle, it’s somewhat surprising that over the past 12 months, the term “slow fashion” has been responsible for over 90 million social impressions1. The movement has been quietly gaining pace over the past few years, but most surprising of all is the growth in demand for what is quite literally the antithesis of instant gratification: made-to-order.

As the name suggests, made-to-order applies to garments that aren’t made until they’ve been purchased, and it wasn’t all that long ago where having a piece of clothing made especially for you was the norm, not the anomaly. Up to the mid-to-late 20th Century it was standard practice for everyone, but nowadays the term conjures up associations of couture and the Saville Row tailoring reserved for the upper echelons of society. Until now.

The past year has seen a boom in made-to-order brands reaching this new generation of conscious consumers. Aided by Instagram shopping functions, and then amplified further by the pandemic as brands like A-Cold-Wall and Dickies sell (or give away) deadstock fabric or branded hardwear to a wildly creative (and bored) Generation Z who are building their own eco-system of DIY fashion and resale. But it’s not a trend reserved for the amateur hobbyist, with brands jumping on this new appetite for slow fashion, high quality products and love for one well-made piece.


Images courtesy of Nicole Mclaughlin


It’s not all positive though – as a business model it can be hard to scale, for consumers it’s more expensive, and with longer production and delivery times you’ll have to be a little bit more organised if you’re planning an outfit for a particular event… But for this audience, there’s still a number of reasons why it passes the vibe check: 

  1. It’s solving a lot of fashion’s problems:

Fast paced and season led, we all know that our current model of production and consumption creates excess stock that goes to landfill – or worse, burned. Overproduction is easily the industry’s biggest issue. In 2017 it was coined “retail’s dirty little secret” and not only does it cost the U.S retail industry an estimated $50 billion a year,2 it also destroys our planet. In comparison made-to-order fashion eliminates much of the industries textile waste in the production process.

As well as tackling some of the environmental problems with fashion, made-to-order fashion can also reduce some of the ethical problems with consumption. Where maximising volume and cost cutting fosters bad quality, bad ethics and bad practice, made-to-order demands a smaller production process and a greater accountability of the supply chain. 

2. It’s allowing for customisation at a new scale:

 Fast fashion gave us the ability to consume any and all trends at once, cheaply, whilst also knowing that we could have a whole new outfit delivered in time for even the most last minute of events. This was supercharged through social media and the misguided notion that an outfit can’t be shared more than once. But over time, the true essence of fashion as an art form was lost. Made-to-order allows brands to inject personalisation into products in a way that fast-fashion never could. From custom sizing, to unique colourways, consumers are increasingly seeing the benefit of waiting a little bit longer to get their hands on a unique item.

3. It’s shown us that instant gratification isn’t so gratifying after all:

 Retailers like Amazon have trained us to want it all, and to want it all now. But psychologists have repeatedly proved that our happiness is impacted just as much by how much we look forward to an event as the event itself. In other words, looking forward to having our new sneakers arrive can actually be just as good as them arriving. If not better. A 2013 study titled “When Wanting Is Better Than Having”3 found that our positive emotions peak just before ordering, maintaining a high through the slow burn of anticipation, before dropping off when our product arrives. One to think about next time you’re frantically tracking the DPD delivery driver…

So, whether you’re after something custom made or just attempting to change bad habits, it’s clear that made-to-order can be good for you as well as our planet. The real question is, do you have the patience?

Written by Emily Ellis of Public Fibre

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