Those of us in the business of fashion, are seeing the industry go through a deep and seismic shakeup right now. As an advocate for slow-fashion, I hope it brings a change in the focus of big-fashion, fast-fashion and disposable-fashion brands. I feel this Coronavirus slowdown is a once in a century opportunity. An opportunity for the industry to take a breath and ask, “How can things be done differently?” Many small handcrafted artisans I know have built that very question into their business model.
In creating Town & Shore Handcrafted my goal has always been to design for the contemporary woman whose life extends from city to seashore. However, my business goal is to create a small, nimble fashion goods business that focuses production around quality craftsmanship, small volume and low waste. The last of which requires lean manufacturing. This requires constant thought around using every inch of leather and material to produce as little final waste as possible. I grew up in a family that maintained a small farm, preventing waste was ingrained in my family’s culture. I have wrapped it into the culture of how my company produces: small manufacturing and production driven by demand. Each product is made in a limited-edition run. I don't overproduce. It eliminates the need to discount inventory. This practice also benefits our customer. How? By not over-producing, I avoid being forced to constantly discount to move product. It honors the customer because the value of their investment is sustained.
From leather to fabric, we use these raw materials for the main products and keep the remnants. Those remnants are then reviewed and used in designs that require smaller amounts of material. This is repeated, sometimes inspiring the design of new items, until those raw materials are reduced to scrap. Scrap is the remaining raw material that can’t be reliably used in the production of any other finished products. The choice we make is to stay as lean as possible and recycle. This can be part of the DNA of any brand. It does not have to be an afterthought that results from some embarrassing media exposure.
Big fashion journalism and industry often ignore the following fact. Many small independent brands, that keep all of their production in-house, make sustainability a constant daily choice. I make this choice in how my company produces, not just as “a feel good.” It is a necessity. We must stay small, agile and creative to continually support a unique, small group of customers. The customers I speak of actively seeks out slow-fashion, independent designers and makers. Why? These customers want goods that are given the same undivided attention to quality for each item. Designs that are not only functional, beautiful and durable but are limited. They want an item that they won’t see on five other people they pass on the street. They understand that slow fashion goods are more expensive to produce and bring to market. They know that these types of brands are rarely going to be in department stores due to their small production.
Let us hope, that out of this global slowdown, we will see fast-fashion and massive conglomerates start to consider their approach to waste. They serve a specific customer base, and that customer deserves better. Thinking about how they can blend lean methodologies into their design, production even presentation. All steps toward reducing waste are part of the broader effort to create more sustainability in fashion.