Just recently we were exposed to the media headlines about the sweatshops in Leicester that had been using what's being called 'slave labour' by several fast fashion brands, including but not limited to BooHoo.
To be fair to all concerned the jury is still out on how culpable these fast fashion companies were - so, lets not judge in haste.
Putting the human component to one side we often hear that fast fashion should be focusing on Carbon offsetting, biodegradable fabrics, dissolvable threads - they are all important in their own right, but in the broader context of things, they are small solutions to a much greater problem, like fixing leaking pipes in a burning building.
What the fast fashion industry’s sustainability issue fundamentally boils down to is simple: it is producing too much clothing.
Some years ago, and in partnership with a seasoned boot and shoe manufacturer (150 years old) I established (and sold) my own high end chain of footwear stores called 'Constables'.
The name was chosen to invoke up mental images of rural idyll of the british countryside, all by the said famous artist 'John Constable'.
This was before a time we have come to know as eCommerce had gained any real traction.
During my many formative years in sports retailing (Olympus Sports) I had seen the value consumers placed around brands creating 'want' over need. This approach to branding ultimately led to sports brands like Nike and Reebok (other brands as well) becoming not only huge global brands, but also for many consumers the 'must have' brand to wear.
As a result I chose to set my high end footwear stall out so to speak at the quality end of the market. Most retailers back then seemed to be locked in 'how low can you go' pricing model that clearly was not going to be sustainable as overseas imports simply made products even cheaper.
A sad result of this was the decline in British footwear manufacturing.
I won't bang on about what we did, or how we did it but I would like share with you one key innovation that might just be making a comeback within the world of fashion retailing.
In order to stand out I agreed with my manufacturing partner to provide a 'bespoke' footwear service. The advantage being that my partners just happened to carry a 'Royal Warrant' for supplying equestrian footwear to the Royal household, in addition to the production of boots and shoes for the military of nations around the world, so you would agree they had a great pedigree in quality.
We set our stall out on the basis that anyone who came to my stores could select from a choice of 6 styles of shoe and have them custom fitted, all with their own personal 'last' - for those that don't operate in the industry a 'last' is something that is used to build a shoe allowing for different sizes of feet, including width.
In essence we created the illusion of bespoke across a number of pre agreed styles and colours - however, we also went one step further and by training our store teams in the art of foot measurement we also offered (for an additional fee) the service of creating your own personal 'last' that could then be used to build out your own highly personalised footwear wardrobe.
All of this was done at a fixed price for the measurement, last, and choice of shoes for both men and women.
So, when I came across this article (link below) about the fashion industry looking to eliminate waste and returns in a sector that has issues with sustainability, I thought it might just add inspiration to a retail sector in dire need of innovation, and sustainability.
Fashion companies face the constant challenge of having to guess which and how many garments they will sell months before they are available for consumers to buy. The speculative nature of the supply chain has led to rampant overproduction and waste, further compounded in recent years by the explosive growth of fast-fashion. But what’s the alternative?
Today of course all of this can be done online, brands can create relationships via social media, and happy customers can share their experience via the same channels.
So the question is 'do you think that manufacturing to order can be a thing'?
The brand launches three products each year in batches of 300 (logistical issues related to Covid-19 meant fewer this time around) and only begins manufacturing once customers have placed an order. The brand has a growing waiting list of more than 3,000 - hence the fast sell-outs.