It’s 2022, and you’re ready to break up with fast fashion. Rewearing what you own, mending and tailoring pieces to infuse new life, and swapping clothes with friends are all a good start towards dressing more sustainably. Investing in pieces you’ll treasure is an effective first step. Supporting small brands is noble. But if at the end of all this, you’re still in the market for something new, shopping made-to-order items might just be your best bet.
According to McKinsey’s The State of Fashion 2021, “More than three in five consumers said environmental impact is an important factor in making purchasing decisions.” In recent years, the rise in made-to-order clothing brands has proven this true. Customers are intrigued by the old-fashioned principle of producing based on actual need and not projections.
“The made-to-order approach encourages us to reconnect with the notion of time and quality, moving from impulse buying that makes us unhappy to a more thoughtful, satisfying way of shopping, says Laurence Delebois, CEO & Founder of Masters of Good, adding that this behavioral shift is essential to mitigating the massive problem of overproduction caused by fast fashion.
Another crucial piece of the puzzle to shopping sustainably is knowing the origin of your clothing. According to Dr. Nina Van Volkinburg, Ph.D, lecturer in marketing at London College of Fashion, “the process [of made-to-order] is based on trust and transparency, you know who is making your garment and where.”
Volkinburg goes on to call the consumer the “co-creator” in the process of shopping. “You have a say with how you want a garment to look like and that is empowering, especially in regards to defining your own identity,” she says. As co-creator, the role of a consumer is proactive and provides a deeper connection with the garment, from the source of the fabric to the relationship with the designer. “It shifts the shopping practice from impersonal transaction towards collaboration, which in essence is much more democratic, creative, and human,” says Volkinburg.
And the pace of shopping is slower — less impulsive, more thoughtful — and as a result there is less production. Ahead, discover four brands steering their business with this less-is-more approach of made-to-order fashion. Peruse the range of styles offered, from sheer smocked neck dresses to denim jackets — all made to last decades.
We only include products that have been independently selected by TZR's editorial team. However, we may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.
For Olivia Villanti, designer and founder of Chava Studio, re-wearability starts with considering a piece’s afterlife. “Is this something you might be able to pass down to someone you love?” she asks. The question guides her design process for her small, relatively new brand where long-term wearability meets classic silhouettes. Every piece from Chava Studio is designed and developed in partnership with Gilly e Hijos, a 30-year-old family-run fabric and shirting studio in Mexico City.
“Everyone says a garment will look even better with time, but I often find that doesn’t really happen,” shares Villanti. That’s not the case with Chava, where sourcing high quality materials with excellent washability is the first priority. Most of the shirting options are made from cotton found in Switzerland by a company that’s been making small batches of it since 1918. The magic of Villanti’s creations doesn’t stop with the composition of the shirting — it extends to the process of creation. With helpful guidance, customers send in their custom measurements to create a garment that’s not only made to order, but made to measure.
“Having to wait for something to be made for you feels like a way to add value to a garment, rather than an inconvenience,” she shares. Chava offers a consistent roster of wardrobe basics, like button-ups and simple pants, dotted with unexpected silhouettes, like square necked blouses or gathered dresses that fall past the knee. There’s a playfulness in the details, whether it’s the pinstripe pattern or the cheeky monogram tucked under the collar. Villanti proves the wait is worth it through subtle detailing that only time and practiced craftsmanship can provide.
Patricia Voto, founder of ONE/OF, was first hit by the amount of beautiful textiles — warm jacquards, bold stripes, and perfect shades of red — collecting dust in her own studio. “We select our textiles in an emotional way. We fall in love with them and collect.” These fabrics, whether two or 20 yards, are then added to Voto’s library. “As we gather these rolls, we create little capsules of clothing, which represent our suggestions on how to use the fabric, but ultimately it’s up to the client.” Limited quantities are to be expected, with some collections featuring only three pieces. The effect feels curatorial, as the acquisition of a piece from ONE/OF resembles the process of collecting art. It’s slow, intentional, and owning an item can transform an outfit in the way an artwork can shift the energy in a room.
It’s no surprise Voto describes ONE/OF’s process as quite intimate. “You're not browsing countless racks or ordering a bunch of garments online only to return them. We invite you into the studio, we take your measurements, have you try on our pieces and flip through our fabric books.” Clients can feel as involved in the process as they like, even leaving with swatches to decide at home on some occasions. “It's been such a collaborative process,” the designer continues, “I think our clients feel very invested in their choices and love having part in the design.”
Sarah Gregg Millman takes inspiration for her clothing line, Local Woman, from women’s rights movements, the wildflowers she picked along Nova Scotia’s beaches as a child, and her beautiful mother from the 1970s. When asked about the lifespan of clothing, she shares, “I think rewearing clothing is extremely crafty and chic,” referencing the ‘60s and ‘70s when “women rewore special pieces, took good care of them, and passed them down to their children.”
When starting Local Woman, Millman knew early on that her business model would be based on made to order. “It’s a feasible way for smaller businesses and creators to get their products out into the world with little to no overhead,” Millman shares. “We make everything in Canada, where we're based, and pay sewers a living wage, creating a little ecosystem around our company,” she shares. “Small businesses that operate with this kind of holistic view are, in my opinion, the future of fashion.”
“I think as fashion designers, we have a big responsibility for what we put out into the world. You have to make every piece count. It is the only way forward,” shares Sofía R. Abbud, founder of Revés, a made-to-order clothing brand based in Mexico City. Working towards sustainability as a posture means growing in practices that benefit the planet, and the local economy. “There are so many considerations that go into producing each piece, whether it’s the material supplier, the tailors with whom we choose to work, or even the laundry we hire to prewash the fabric … finding the right combination is an ongoing process,” Abbud shares.
With only two models of pants offered on the site, customers have found the specificity and precision of the made-to-order process compelling enough to order two or three of the same pants. Waiting four weeks for a pair of custom-fit 100% cotton pants doesn’t seem to be deterring anyone. “Since launching Revés, I’ve had many clients from different countries reaching out to inquire about custom-made pants,” says Abbud. “I think knowing that you’re getting a piece crafted with all the attention and care makes everything so much more meaningful.”