The article first appeared on the Vogue Business.
With its trademark white, puff-sleeved blouses and ruched gingham dresses, Olivia Rose epitomises the modern-day Jane Birkin aesthetic that has become popular on Instagram. But what sets the Edinburgh-based label apart from visually similar peers like With Jéan and Rouje is that each piece is made upon purchase.
From fast-fashion giants to the rise of indie brands with Instagram storefronts and Chinese factories, fashion is moving more rapidly than ever. Simultaneously, labels across the price spectrum are finding success with made-to-order, positioning it as a slower, higher-quality alternative to mass retail and off-the-rack designer clothes.
In the past decade, as prices for ready-to-wear have gone up and quality has arguably gone down, haute couture and bespoke tailoring have witnessed a renaissance. Although it is not the most scalable of business models, it is a sustainable one. Today, established designers like Emilia Wickstead and Jenny Packham offer made-to-measure services in addition to ready-to-wear, while digitally native brands Olivia Rose and Maison Cleo operate on a fully custom model as a way to avoid excess inventory and provide the personalisation customers crave.
“We are in the early stages of one of the largest sector-driven opportunities of our lifetime,” says Lisa Morales-Hellebo, co-founder of Refashiond, a venture capital firm that invests in companies attempting to reinvent the supply chain.
Personalisation goes mass
The absence of excess inventory is a significant benefit for businesses that offer made-to-measure. Prices are usually much higher, and the profit margins can also be significant. At New York-based Prabal Gurung, made-to-order accounts for 25 per cent of the business and margins are “healthy”, according to Olivia Ong, the brand’s VP of global sales and merchandising. Prices take into account fabric, timeline, pattern, sketches, fittings, hours of sewing, and embroidery.
Made-to-order pieces at Roland Mouret run from between £6,000 to £50,000, or at least triple the prices of his ready-to-wear. Mouret says these take into account the cost of materials — unique fabrics tend to have higher costs since they aren’t bought in bulk — and also his time and presence.
While customers can buy designs made entirely from scratch, designers with ready-to-wear lines say most clients desire variations of the clothes that were previously shown on the runway. “[Requests are] never too far from the creativity of the collection,” says Mouret. This is echoed by London-based Antonio Berardi, where made-to-order makes up 20 to 25 per cent of the business. This keeps costs down further since most fabrics will already be on hand, and less time is needed to tweak a piece.
Read the full article on the Vogue Business.