Why was Christmas as a kid so great? Was it opening the presents lying underneath the tree come Christmas morning, or was it the steady build-up of excitement and anticipation that started from 1 December? This notion of waiting impatiently for something special is arguably lost in today’s consumer culture. To keep up with Amazon Prime and our greedy appetite to have things immediately, brands now need to offer some form of express delivery. This has had a profound effect on the fashion industry and even worse, our environment. More deliveries means more planes, trains and automobiles guzzling fuel, desperately hurrying to make their quoted drop-off time. More packaging for all the items being delivered and more returns from unhappy customers.
To tackle the constant demand for products from increasingly popular e-commerce platforms (sorry high street), brands will do their best to predict their necessary stock levels, but balancing supply is difficult and can make or break a company. Producing too little means missed sales, but too much can mean excess inventory and waste – the latter being the industry's main concern. Popular high-street label H&M is still tackling its left-over inventory problem, which accounts for $4 billion. Primark recently revealed that it's dealing with a £284 million hit from stock it can no longer sell because of store closures due to Covid-19; and M&S had to secure storage units to ‘hibernate’ £200 million worth of stock until spring summer 2021.
But what if we attempted to slow down fashion’s notoriously fast paced consumption habits and learnt to appreciate the romance in waiting for something special? After all, good things come to those who wait. Pre-order or made-to-measure models, especially since Covid-19’s arrival, have become popular for small, independent brands as the model comes with many positives: inventory can be carefully calculated through the number of orders placed and brands then have the capital upfront to manufacture the items, leaving no excess, expensive waste.
Popular unisex bag brand Teflar utilised this model for the release of their hyped shopping tote bag, the ‘Bushwick Birken’, which sold out in just minutes. The lucky customers who managed to purchase a bag will have to wait until January to get their hands on it. This wait time can frustrate impatient customers, but it is up to the brand to approach the situation respectfully: with frequent communication, good marketing and transparent branding, the process (or wait time) can be half the fun.
Leaving the hectic, concrete jungle of Teflar’s New York City, you can find the same method being used in north west Wales, by the founders of Paynter Jacket Co. Huw Thomas and Becky Okell. Three times a year they release small batches of their meticulously re-designed chore jackets to their obsessed (and quickly growing) fanbase, with each batch varying in colour and fabric.
Their branding is honest, transparent and inclusive. The duo even released a video of their batch No. 3.5 release, showing the emotions they experience when their jackets sell out, an authentic and refreshing insight into running a brand. The journey of the jacket’s manufacture is something both Becky and Huw, and their customers, cherish. “Our customers know more about that one jacket than most of the other clothes in their wardrobe," explains Co-founder Becky Okell. "We get so much energy from letting people in where they’re not normally invited”.
With the pre-order model, it is important that customers feel that the time frame from purchase to delivery is calculated and truthful. Paynter Jacket Co.’s approach is to show the customer each and every necessary step, and all 300 hands involved in crafting their jacket. “The thing that you have to work hardest on is building trust. We weren’t sure if anyone would be interested in our slowness," Okell tells me. "But actually, the opposite was true. Our customers said that by the time their jacket arrived on their doorstep, they felt like they’d had it for years, like an old friend.” The brand's most recent release (which dropped on 5 September), was batch No.4 - a durable corduroy jacket in wintery shades of oat, deep navy, olive, burnt orange and emerald green. Even though the pair increased the batch size from 500 to 750, they all still sold out in 2 minutes. Slow in production, fast to go. Get your name down on the Batch No.5 pre-order list here, and quickly...
Covid-19 has had a devastating effect on almost every industry, but the impact on the fashion industry has been profound. Many brands are re-evaluating the speed at which they are producing collections, with luxury houses like Gucci and Saint Laurent pulling out from the typical seasonal show structure. Due to Covid-19 induced lockdowns, travel bans and manufacturing closures, global emissions have dropped by 4.6%, or 2.5 gigatonnes (one gigatonne is 1,000,000,000 tonnes), according to a University of Sydney review of 38 regions and 26 sectors published in the journal PLOS One. The positives are there to be seen, but it’s down to us and whether we can become more patient when shopping online; whether we can learn to appreciate the process and craftsmanship involved in making the products we purchase. When done well, brands reap the rewards and provide a more enjoyable, authentic buying experience for the customer. A win-win. But how long until it spreads to all industry corners? Slow and steady does often win the race, but how many miles of the climate change race do we have left?
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