Sustainability is one of the greatest challenges the fashion industry faces as does our world as a whole. This past year left many of us with ample time alone with our own thoughts and I personally have made a lot of changes, albeit small ones, in the last year. While change can be daunting, I’ve committed to making changes like shopping more mindfully and thoughtfully, buying more vintage and no longer shopping fast-fashion brands. These changes have led me to think about the industry as a whole and what can be done to curb waste.
It was once said that fashion is the second-largest polluting industry in the world, and though that’s since been debated, it’s impossible to ignore that fashion has a pollution problem. Manufacturing and production technologies are ever-evolving and in the last ten years more companies have been forced to become transparent as media outlets and publications have exposed a slew of environmentally harmful practices and not just from fast fashion retailers.
One of the most appalling exposés on the luxury goods industry was the shockingly standard practice that designer brands have of burning off their unsold goods. While mass-market apparel brands are able to sell off most of their goods by offering customers deep discounts on out of season products, luxury brands have steered clear of discounting as a way to maintain brand integrity. As a result they’re often left with a surplus of unsold goods.
While the UK and France have taken strides to prevent the practice by banning it all together, the laws neglected to offer any real solutions, forcing brands to have to get creative with how they get rid of out dated or unsold merchandise. But what if brands were left with little or no excess goods at the end of a season? What if more brands operated on a pre-order model, allowing its manufacturing sites to produce small quantities of bags in order to cut waste?
The task, no doubt, is daunting and a pre-order business model would be incredibly hard to switch over to, but there are some brands that successfully operate using a small-batch or pre-order business model. Telfar is brand that follows this model, and while there are some cons, leftover product and waste isn’t one of them. According to Vogue Business Khaite and New York Based designer Misha Nonoo also operate via a similar business model. Today, Mischa Nonoo produces all pieces to order and delivers to the customer within 10 days. The approach not only helps to minimize waste, but it also helps a brand become more in touch with its consumers versus blindly assuming that an item will sell.
This approach doesn’t come without its challenges though, as consumers have become accustomed to a ‘see now, buy now, get now’ approach when it comes to fashion, but times are changing. Steve Dennis, a former strategy director at Neiman Marcus told Vogue Business, “Big fashion houses are continuing to invest in expanding their direct-to-consumer capabilities, and [smaller brands] are being way more selective about who they distribute with.” Ultimately, it starts with talking to the consumer about waiting in this fast-fashion world we’ve become so acquainted with.
While made to order is incredibly challenging for RTW companies where fit comes into play, with handbags that concern isn’t an issue, but dropping upwards of $2,000 on a bag months in advance may be be. How do you feel about pre-ordering bags? What would it take for this model to feel approachable for you? Sample showrooms to feel, see and touch a bag before placing an order? Something else?
As the industry shifts and continues to focus on sustainability and waste, it will be interesting to watch how the handbag world responds to these changes and how consumers react to them as well.