Made to measure as the ultimate sustainable alternative to fast-fashion
The rise of bespoke clothing: Is made-to-measure the answer to fashion’s sustainability crisis?
The idea of bespoke, made-to-measure clothing may sound like the preserve of the wealthy and those with couture ateliers on speed dial, but it isn’t actually that long ago that made-to-measure was, for many, the standard way of buying clothes. Garments made specifically for the wearer’s measurements were the norm until just after the industrial revolution in the mid-19th century. They remained popular until the 1940s when the introduction of a standardised sizing system, resulting in producing rails of identical blouses and shirts in an industry-approved range of sizes. This more standardised approach drove costs down, and as the high-end department store paved the way for the high street shop, and– later– online shopping, fashion undoubtedly became more accessible. Shopping became a pastime and ready-to-wear clothing became the norm. Fashion today resides on the opposite end of the spectrum to made-to-measure: the garments in most of our wardrobes are mass-produced, homogenised, cheaply made and manufactured.
Although some may argue that mass production and standardised sizing led to the so-called democratisation of fashion, exclusionary size ranges, underpaid garment workers and tonnes upon tonnes of clothing sitting in landfill show the darker side of mass-produced, ready-to-wear fashion. With these issues making headlines, consumers are beginning to embrace made-to-measure. Designer brands have begun to offer made-to-measure alongside their ready-to-wear lines, but with prices in the thousands, they’re not a viable alternative for many people. However, it’s not just designer labels returning to fashion’s bespoke roots; there’s a whole generation of new brands – like Bivolino.com with made-to-measure at the heart of their business model.
(Online ) made to measure brands face some challenges they have to tackle:
- Garment Configuration – not confusing your customer
- Sizing – ensuring the perfect fit
- 100% fit-guarantee and alteration service – impact on returns
- Inclusive Fashion
- Locally made’and Pricing
- Transport and Delivery (no air-flights) – carbon footprint calculator
Bivolino easy-to-use co-creation configurator, combined with a patented Biometric Sizing Technology(see AI – Artificial Intelligence - Biometric Sizing (bivolino.com)) enables customers to avoid returns. Consumers accept to wait a few weeks to get their shirts produced, transported by sea and road, supporting a reasonable carbon footprint. While the customer wait, he/she is updated along the way, receiving notifications as to when your pattern pieces have been cut, sewn and then shipped. At Bivolino, the majority of the fabrics come from South-Europe ( Italy), Turkey (including cotton from Egypt) and Roumenia. The shirts, produced in Europe (Romania) and Tunisia (EU-Mediterranean region), delivered by road (truck and boat), generate a carbon footprint of only 1.6 kg C0² / shirt (study done by www.ecolife.be). Bivolino refuse to produce in the Far- and Middle East.
IMPACT: Made-to-measure custom-fit Bivolino shirts produced in the mediterranean area and sold ‘online‘ has a far lower CO² emission (transport carbon footprint of 1,6 kg CO² emission/shirt) then off-the-rack mass-produced shirts in far-east , transported by sea and sold through webshops (transport carbon footprint of 2,7 kg CO² - taken an average 25% return in account) or stores ( transport carbon footprint of 4,2 kg CO²) . It is also obvious that competitors flying-in shirts from far-east has a very negative impact on the environment (transport carbon footprint of 6,8 kg CO²).
As a single tree can absorb CO² at a rate of 20 kg/year, we need to plant 1 tree to offset carbon emissions for each dozen made to measure shirt and for each 5 mass produced shirts
At the checkout, on Bivolino.com the carbon footprint calculator indicates the exact value depending on the number of shirts orders, the chosen logistic route and the delivery time.
By evidence, the benefits go beyond customer satisfaction. Mass manufacturing for inventory means taking a gamble on how much to make, hoping it sells and doesn’t get returned. Creating standard sizes involves creating samples, doing fittings, and repeating the process until a suitable fit is reached. It’s likely that brands using this process create a lot of excess product that will be trashed.
Made-to-measure and bespoke feels like a refreshing dive into a more innovative, caring and sustainable future for fashion
Before the pandemic, excess inventory that went unsold was around 30% of the clothing that was produced. It’s a broken model and a big reason why Bivolino created technology to automate customisation and to make products on demand. In having zero inventory and only making the product that is bought, Bivolino effectively save one-third of clothing from going straight from the assembly line to landfill.
Bivolino’s Biometric Size Algorithm
In order to create a custom fit, Bivolino uses their “Biometric Size Algorithm”, which is based upon height, weight, age and collar size. Customer have the option to adjust the fit (slim, fitted or loose) as well as bust circumference. Alongside the sustainability benefits, Bivolino cites size inclusivity as one of the main drivers for his offering a made-to-measure service. Sustainable fashion is often criticised for its limited size ranges and refusal to cater for plus size consumers. Bivolino gets lots of orders for plus size. Bivolino offers a 100% fit-guarantee with a free remake, in order to get the fit right. Without the correct technology and logistics in place, for most brands, it’s simply not profitable to put returns back into inventory, so they’re either sold to discounters or sent directly to landfill. But for Bivolino, sending returns to landfill would certainly not make financial sense and, more importantly, it would go against his ethos of reducing waste. Bivolino’s Perfect Fit Guarantee means that the customer could return the shirt for the pattern cutters to reassess and readjust for free. But this is a rare occurrence as the complaint rate is approximately 2,8%, while fashion giant Zalando, for context, reports returns rates of 50%.
Bivolino confirms that by going into made-to-order and made-to-measure, they could solve the return nightmare and remove inventory, hence removing overstock and reducing a lot of waste in the supply chain.
Bivolino’s accessible prices
At Bivolino.com the accessible price point is down to the use of digital tailoring: computer programs essentially act as tailors in building the shirt around a customer’s 3D avatar, reducing the costs involved in a tailor manually measuring a customer’s body and creating an unique pattern. At 100,-€ the Bivolino shirts aren’t high-street-cheap, but reasonably priced for a sustainably handmade, custom shirt. Bivolino built his business around a sustainable model and reasonable priced made-to-order and made-to-measure were an inherent part of that.
Organic and sustainable fabrics
Most fabrics have sustainable characteristics: sustainable materials, organic fabrics, recycled fabrics, plant based, Oeko-Tex Standard 100, Lyocell, Microfiber, Eco-Viscose, Cold Wash, Green Clean, Organic Linen, Eco-Friendly, Bio-Cotton.
For each fabric, sustainability icons reflects the properties, highlighted with the green “squirrel label”.
The antithesis to mass-production and disposability, it could be the answer to many of fashion’s ills
Made-to-measure fashion inherently slows us down and makes us think about what we’re buying. It reduces waste, centres craft and innovation, and proffers a more personal – and personalised – relationship with what we wear.
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