Made-on-demand and customisation are the two big topics in the world of apparel as the pandemic shines an unflattering light on the industry’s wasteful production. But while made-on-demand has the potential to drastically reduce the amount of clothing produced each year, to move to a truly sustainable business model – and satisfy consumers’ increasing desire for customisation – fashion brands and retailers should incorporate fit technologies to ensure their garments are not returned by customers.
Fashion’s waste problem
The clothing industry has a huge problem with waste. Mass production has equalled overproduction for years, but never has this been so apparent as in the last year, when the volume of unsold stock has risen to dizzying proportions. McKinsey estimates that the industry is currently sitting on a backlog of unsold clothes worth up to US $190 billion. For an industry that already generates 92 million tonnes of waste a year, the question of what happens to this deadstock might finally be fuelling a rethink.
Fashion’s negative impact on the planet is well-documented, the result of long supply chains, intensive, high volume production, chemical use and, for a long time, an unwillingness to tackle the environmental and ethical consequences of a fast-fashion culture that encourages overconsumption.
In the UK alone, 300,000 tonnes of clothing are incinerated or sent to landfill each year, much of it unsold and unworn. And that was before Covid. The inventory crisis facing brands and retailers after more than a year of lockdowns has prompted many fashion businesses to rethink the ‘make it, sell what you can, mark down the rest, and throw away the balance’ model that has prevailed for so long.
A new production model
Made-on-demand could hold the answer. Made-to-order business models have been around for a while – making garments only as required by each customer was the original model of garment manufacture – and thanks in part to sustainability pressures, the pandemic, and the more demanding nature of the Gen Z shopper, these are once again becoming mainstream.
Even before the pandemic, in its 2019 State of Fashion Report, McKinsey highlighted the rise in agile, made-to-order start-ups and predicted that mainstream players would follow suit. And they are. ASOS, a powerhouse of online retail, is collaborating with UK ethical manufacturer Fashion-Enter and Kornit Digital on a micro factory piloting a made-on-demand model. And where ASOS leads, others will follow.
The other advantage is flexibility. With on-demand production, if there is sudden change in the type of garments consumers are buying – as has been the case during this pandemic – companies can pivot quickly to new products without being left with a mountain of unsold, unwanted stock.
Made-on-demand or made-to-measure?
However, made-on-demand alone is not enough if we want to truly tackle fashion’s waste problem. The rise of online retail – another trend massively accelerated by the pandemic – has given rise to another waste stream. Returns. Returned online purchases cost retailers billions every year and often leave them with stock that can’t be resold. Incorrect fit is one of, if not the biggest reason online garments are returned. And the fact is that if made-on-demand garments don’t fit, they will suffer the same fate as those that are mass produced – and because these are made to order, there is even less chance they will be resold.
Consider the uniform market, which also has a fit problem. A big one. Uniform contracts for brands such as airlines are an example of a certain type of made-on-demand model. The uniform is designed specifically for the client, garments are graded and produced, and then wearers are fitted. And that’s where they run into problems, because the fitting happens after the garments have been made. Forward-thinking uniform businesses are now using fit technologies to help wearers choose the right size from pre-made collections, but when you are making just one garment at a time, why leave fit until the moment the customer tries it on? Why not turn made-on-demand into made-to-measure?
Made-to-measure is not as complicated as it sounds. We’re not talking about bespoke suits. The technology exists to collect basic data from consumers quickly, easily, and remotely and convert this into measurements can be used to create a custom-made digital pattern that can be sent to production within minutes.
For example, consumers in Stockholm can now buy custom-made, made-to-measure jeans thanks to a collaboration between Unspun and H&M-owned brand Weekday using 3D bodyscanning technology from our partner TG3D. Consumers book an appointment for a body scan, which creates a digital avatar made up of 100,000 data points, choose their preferred style, and pick up their perfectly fitted jeans two to three weeks later.
TG3D uses Bodi.Me to integrate made-to-measure patterns from body scans for the EMEA and South American markets, but body scanners are not essential for custom-made garments. Our Size-Me solution, for example, can predict up to 50 measurements from just a few simple questions such as height, weight, bra size, and jeans size, from which even complex bespoke garments can be fitted with a high degree of accuracy. The system integrates with third-party software to deliver a seamless design-to-production process that can support made-to-order business models. It really is that simple.