Over the past few months I have been rethinking my production process. When I started Two Days Off I knew I wanted to start with a handmade-to-order production model. Handmade meaning that each garment is sewn start to finish by one person, not different parts of a garment sewn in batches and then assembled like in most factory produced clothes. There is nothing at all wrong with factory production in this sense, I just liked the idea of slowly making each customer’s garment start to finish, that piece intentionally made for a specific person.
Made-to-order means that the garment is cut, sewn, and finished after an order is placed. I love this method of production because it helps prevent manufacturers/designers from over producing a style or size that won’t sell just to ultimately get marked down (which can encourage mindless shopping) or disposed of another way. I find made-to-order promotes more mindful consumption on the part of the customer as well. Most shoppers buying a made-to-order item that will take weeks to produce are not impulse purchasing that piece. Most likely, a lot of thought and consideration went into the purchase. It may seem peculiar that I prefer a business model doesn’t promote impulse shopping, but It’s true. I think slow fashion business can be just as successful selling high quality clothes as fast fashion has been selling disposable ones.
Made-to-order does pose its own unique challenges though. Firstly, the wait. While on the positive side slowly produced fashion can help reduce over consumption, on the other hand it can be frustrating waiting a few weeks for a new piece. There is time needed to cut pattern pieces, sew them together, and finish the garment. Another downside is that cutting one garment at a time is not the most time efficient, nor is it the most optimized use of the fabric and can create more waste than necessary. And then comes inventory management, when cutting different sizes and styles to order from the same fabrics there is a lot of manual work involved in making sure your available inventory accurate each day. This becomes even more challenging when you work with limited edition deadstock fabrics like Two Days Off does.
What is even more difficult, in my opinion, are exchanges. What if an item doesn’t fit and you need to get a different size? Do you have to wait weeks for the new piece again? Or should you be bumped up the in the queue of orders? Doing so could cause some delays with getting other orders out in a timely manner. All of these are unknown and fluctuating variables that can negatively impact the customer experience. While all of this is manageable, it is a complex issue.
Another production model is factory or mass produced, and in today’s society it is the most common. Mass production (which could be hundreds or thousands of garments) is on the other end of the production spectrum to handmade-to-order and there are many efficiencies that can be incorporated to keep costs down. But aside from the philosophical issues with mass producing in bulk, there are oversight issues within factories that are harder to manage. For small brands that don’t own the garment factories they work with it can be very hard to verify pay and working conditions of the employees. If you work with US-based factories there are regulatory standards that they have to meet to be in compliance with labor laws and a brand can review those records and should tour facilities in person. But regulations do not ensure a living wage, and factory visits may not reveal issues with day-today operations or unethical worker treatment.
There is a middle ground between made-to-order and mass production and that is small-batch production. Small batch-production is the production of (typically) tens to hundreds of of a style. The process is the same as mass produced clothes, just less are being made at a time (or on each run). Doing smaller runs allows a designer/brand to sell what they have before producing more, allowing them to gauge just how interested their customers are in each piece. There is still a risk of not selling some garments, but the scale is smaller so they won’t flood the market with thousands of marked down pieces. Small-batches of handmade pieces can also be done, typically in-house because factories aren’t set up to make a garment start to finish (“handmade production”).