As a maker of made-to-measure menswear, we hold ourselves accountable for our impact whether that’s on you, the people we employ, or the planet itself. We realize that our business has the potential to harm the world around us or create positive change – and we prefer to do the latter. But why exactly is clothing that you design to the last detail better for everyone? We chatted to our Sustainability Lead Milou Schijf to find out.
Creating less waste
The big reason: overproduction. It’s a huge issue in our industry. Fast fashion brings a significant amount of clothing into the world. As explained by Milou, “Made-to-measure clothing doesn’t contribute to mass-production and the waste that comes with it. We are not making a tonne of products and then trying to find a customer to buy it and – fingers crossed – it will fit. We are only making clothes when someone wants it, exactly how they want it.”
Worse still, a large portion of these clothes will never reach a wardrobe. Overproduction often isn’t a case of accidentally overestimating how many clothes were ‘needed’, but rather, producing a larger amount will save the company money. In the case of luxury fashion, some brands have been known to ditch unsold clothing rather than discount the product or lose their sense of ‘exclusivity’. That means, the supply chain is not only creating CO2 emissions with mass production, there’s even more if they don’t sell. Unsold clothes are likely to be incinerated (adding even more emissions) or end up in landfill.
“Something like 30% of all the clothing that’s made during mass production is never even worn. It is burned or ends up in landfill. The real number is difficult to even pin down because none of these big fashion companies aren’t really open about the amount they’re producing. I think that is the most shocking thing”.
Creating clothing on demand avoids this kind of waste. There is of course other waste, like the leftover fabric cuttings in creating your clothing. In fact, we did a study and ready-to-wear is 6% more efficient with fabric use than single-piece production like our process. However, it’s a drop in the ocean compared to the waste attributed to overproduction.
Slowing down consumption
It’s no real surprise that an issue with ‘fast fashion’ is the speed with which we consume it. Overconsumption goes hand in hand with overproduction. The more we hoard in our wardrobes (or wear a handful of times and throw away), the more clothing is created – along with the emissions needed to produce them.
On the other hand, a process like made-to-measure encourages a more considered approach to buying. “With fast fashion, the clothes are just there in an instant, you don’t have to think and it is already in your closet. When you have to choose the style, choose the fabric, the details, it forces you to think about what you really want”, explains Milou. It’s a more purposeful process, which gives us time to slow down and ask ourselves ‘Do I need this?’. When we have time, we make better decisions which ultimately will probably lead you to buy less – but of a much higher quality.
Getting your value per wear
This brings us to our next point. Fast fashion tends to encourage a bit of throw-away culture. Which means – you guessed it – even more waste. When something is mass-produced, and often for a passing trend, it will not inspire longevity. As a more costly and meaningful venture, made-to-measure has intrinsic value you will want to hold onto, care for and even repair.
“It’s not like a pair of socks. You just buy it, and if they don’t fit, you get another pair. Made-to-measure is a special thing. It is exactly your fit, your style, you have designed it. If it is one of ours, it is probably timeless too. It may cost more than something mass-produced, but if you think about it per wear, your cost and emissions are much better”.
Lasting a lifetime
Speaking of longevity, made-to-measure clothing will last a long time in a physical sense too. Here at Atelier Munro, we aim for a lifetime. When you are already going to the effort of crafting a single piece, there is more focus on the quality of the materials and dyes. When something only lasts 10 washes, you will need to buy again sooner. This is worse not only for the planet, but your wallet too.
Another way we encourage durable craftsmanship is by having a smaller number of base products. By not following the trends like fast fashion and instead focusing on the same, timeless designs we are able to continually improve our products. Milou explains, “Because we are not making a trendy shirt one day, then another design the next day, we can focus on those garments. We have time, we are ever improving the product. For example, our two-piece suit, we have been making it for 15 years and in 15 years you can learn a lot.”. Essentially, over time the patterns get better, the people making the garment get more experienced at creating that garment too. It comes full circle and all leads back to a higher quality, longer lasting clothing.
What you may not know about made-to-measure is that the set-up process with each atelier is quite complex. We’re not dealing with a ‘set and forget’ pattern, our needs are much more complicated than a mass-producer and our standards for quality control require intense oversight. It takes a long time to engage a new atelier and to move to another would take at least a year. The upshot of this is that we have close and long-lasting relationships with all our ateliers, which helps us ensure workers are treated well and offers them stability too. This stability with workers has an added bonus of even greater quality.
“It’s anecdotal but for the ateliers we work with, people do stay quite a long time. When I go to the smaller makers in Italy, you always see the same faces. It’s always better that people stay for a long time, connected and working in the atelier because less turnover leads to better quality too. Your garments benefit from all that skill and knowledge they are keeping”.
Of course, any brand that prioritizes long-lasting relationships with their garment producers will have this same benefit. If you’re unsure how to know where they stack up in this respect, check if they are a Fair Wear Foundation partner, like us. If you’re curious for more on what we’re doing, check out our 2022 Fair Wear Foundation report.
After our chat, one thing is pretty clear. Fast fashion may be cheaper, but it really isn’t something the planet can afford.
To learn more, check out our lists of conscious books curated by Milou.