This is an opinion piece by Megan Brosterman, co-founder of Victoria Road, a brand which discovers and supports designers and artisans in emerging markets who are creating modern, sophisticated fashion inspired by their vibrant cultures. Originally posted on Ecocult. You can read the whole article here.
Thousands of tonnes of garments wind up in landfills each year, many of them never worn.
And it’s not only the fast fashion mega-brands that are the culprits. The way today’s market works, there’s actually no way out of the cycle of waste if a brand wants to sell enough clothes to stay in business. Right?
To understand why, let’s talk about what it takes to get a design from the concept phase through production and into a consumer’s closet. First, there is the patternmaking and sampling, itself a waste-ridden process. Then the brand places an order with a (hopefully fair trade) garment factory. Most suppliers have minimums that need to be met; this means a brand has to order a certain number of garments, which can range from a few hundred to thousands per style, for the factory to agree to work with them.
The brand might already have some orders from wholesale customers – boutiques and department stores. Or it might have some pre-sale orders from a Kickstarter campaign to go towards fulfilling that minimum. They put in the order, and a couple months later, it comes back, often with flaws that necessitate trashing the whole thing and starting over again.
What’s more, nowadays most buyers don’t want to wait. Retailers and individuals alike put a premium on immediacy – we see it on Instagram, and we want it. And we saw in this year’s fashion weeks how far even the top global brands are willing to go to give that to them.
So you need inventory ready to go in a box and out the door to your customer. And when you build up inventory, there is always a chance that some – or all – of it won’t sell, leaving you with mountains of clothing to get rid of.
This see-now-buy-now business model, which rests on a foundation of overstock, is the antithesis of the zero waste principle. So we went the opposite direction and built out a factory.
We’re definitely swimming against the stream, but for us, vertical integration has been the most important step in our plan to disrupt the usual global fashion supply chain and actually develop a viable, ethical alternative to fast fashion.
To be clear, when I say vertically integrated, I’m not just talking about scooping up a factory in Bangladesh, while the design team and management work in New York City. Unlike most brands, our design, pattern development, materials sourcing, sampling and production processes take place under the same roof in our dedicated facility in Lahore, Pakistan. Our CEO, based in Dubai, spends time here bi-monthly working alongside the local team.
We believed – and our experience has born this out – that the value we can provide to both our customers and our communities due to our small-run, minimal waste model far outweighs its hurdles. And we think that, as they learn more about why we are doing things this way, more folks will catch on.
1. We produce close to no waste.
Because we own the facility, we aren’t constrained by minimum purchase requirements. This allows us to produce our collections in small runs, keeping minimal inventories. Our wholesale shipments are made to order. We keep only a small amount of stock for our online store, relying on pre-sales for much of our retail sales.
Have we lost some sales because of this? Absolutely. But we’re gaining loyal customers who will come back for the quality of the garments, which are made to last both in construction and in style.
2. It makes us more nimble.
Using a small, vertically integrated facility allows us to be nimbly adaptable and creative in today’s real-time fashion environment. Because the design, development and production are happening under the same roof, our team can respond quickly to market preferences with new styles, style updates and modifications, even mid-season. All without the environmental disaster created by the “let’s order a million units and see if they sell” model.