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Instagram’s made-to-order brands: the beginning of the end of fast fashion

For me, as I assume for most of us, the COVID-19 lockdown has been a life-changing event, mainly because I was bound to spend more time than ever both inside my home and with myself. And what is a better way to spend that time than to dive into the bottomless pit of content on social media? It wasn't long until I discovered the slow-fashion movement on Instagram. Before I realized it, I had read countless articles and posts on the real costs of our clothing and I began to wonder who was paying the actual price of my three-pound top if I wasn't.

From the day I received my first salary at sixteen until now, I have been a devoted ASOS customer, checking their 'New In' page every day for fresh drops like it was my Twitter feed. Having been a self-confessed online shopaholic for years, it was especially hard for me to admit that I, too, am a culprit in the large-scale societal and environmental damage the fast fashion industry is responsible for. It was a real obsession that even caused me to purchase their Next-Day-Delivery plan last year because I was ordering and returning so many clothes. So, of course, it took me a long time to accept that this wasn't sustainable—neither for the earth nor for myself. I started asking myself many questions. What if it isn't normal that my shirt costs less than my coffee? How can I preach about feminism when I don't stand up to the exploitation of mainly female garment workers all over the world?

I wasn't putting my money where my mouth was, so I had no choice but to find alternatives. I started looking for solutions where I initially had found the problem: Instagram. This is where I stumbled upon made-to-order labels. Approaching a—to me—completely unknown sphere of fashion, I was filled with scepticism but also great curiosity. Days’ worth of scrolling and following was spent on researching. What I found changed the way I approached fashion profoundly. Made-to-order is a concept that follows the zero-waste approach of only supplying where there is demand. The product is only made once it is ordered. Not only does this allow for customization in size and design but also a kind of transparency I never had thought was possible. Because the production chain is so short for small made-to-order businesses, it is really easy to ask about how much work and time is needed to make your clothing and how much it costs. My first purchase was the 'Julie' blouse—110 Euros (100£). Spending 100£ on a blouse was unbelievable to me, but once I saw where the money went, I found it even harder to believe how a blouse could be produced for 5£.

Image by Maison Cleo

In the world of fast fashion, it is often forgotten that the clothes we wear were designed and made by real people and not machines. Do you know who designed your H&M dress? Where do we draw the line for creative property? By supporting handmade-to-order brands you are not only supporting small businesses, but you are also making sure that an artist—the designer—can keep making art. Instagram allows these designers to directly communicate with their customers to find out what fits, colours and styles they would like to see. This kind of designer-customer communication allows their collections to be more dynamic and responsive to trends than large-scale producers could ever be.

For anyone who wears anything beyond straight sizes (everything that counts as 'plus-size') buying clothes can be a nightmare. Even though there are more labels nowadays who cater to plus-size, the lack of choice is still striking compared to straight-size fashion. Made-to-order fashion could be a feasible solution to this issue as the concept of sizes can be completely dropped when clothing is made to each individual’s measurements.

Could made-to-order brands be paving a new path in fashion? Yes. Could they be the future of fashion? No, or at least not exclusively. Made-to-order fashion is not made for everyone. It is made with people in mind who have the funds to invest in their clothes, for people who are looking to wear them for years or who can simply afford to splurge on something that is tailored to them. However, it is not made for people who don’t have the funds or who depend on fast fashion being fast and cheap. Made-to-order fashion isn’t for everyone just yet and it isn’t the all-in-one solution against fast fashion either. Overthrowing the fast fashion industry is impossible when we are not doing it for all bodies and with society’s most vulnerable groups in mind. But for those who can afford it, it could be the first step into a more sustainable and inclusive future of fashion. Better fitting clothes while dismantling weight stigma and fatphobia at the same time? Supporting fellow artists while being a part of the long-overdue rebirth of the fashion industry? Sounds like a hell of a deal to me.

Lastly, here are some made-to-order labels I personally support and recommend checking out, IG handle included:

Olivia Rose The Label (@oliviarosethelabel): All of the clothes are handmade and designed by the owner and only employee Olivia in her home studio in Edinburgh. She is well-known throughout the slow-fashion scene for her trademark puffy sleeves and shirring expertise. The blouses and dresses in deadstock designer fabric are sure to make you feel special: you will feel like a celebrity as the gaze of strangers is lingering on you. (Checkout Strand's interview with Olivia Rose here)

Photo by Marta Ferenc @martsferenc for Olivia Rose The Label

Chalsie Joan (@chalsiejoan): This is one of the youngest labels, only established earlier this year by its founder and designer Chalsie Williamson in Birmingham. Chalsie Joan designs seem like they are inspired by the beauty and romance the designer finds in the world around her. The soft-frill blouses and bright colours invite their wearer to go out and enjoy the finer things in life, turning heads while they are at it.

Photo by Marie Jedig @mariejedig for Chalsie Joan

Maison Cléo (@maisoncleo): Maison Cléo is a mother-daughter pair who have become known well beyond the margins of the slow-fashion movement. Worn and adored by celebrities and influencers alike (Emily Ratajkowski, Gabrielle Richardson, Clémentine Desseaux) their designs are so sought-after that they sell out within minutes every Wednesday when their e-shop opens. If the care-free, embracing femininity, French-like and not-giving-a-fuck-about-what-people-think-about-you look is your thing, look no further.

Myself wearing the 'Julie' blouse by Maison Cléo

Elexiay (@elexiay): Elexiay’s designs—unapologetic and wonderfully bold—majorly focus on crochet, putting this age-old Nigerian craftsmanship in the foreground of their philosophy. Their crochets are all made by women in Nigeria who put their skill, care and experience in each piece they make. Stunningly colourful, their crochet designs will surely have you blushing from everyone's attention. Their designs are innovative and exciting, something never seen before but what feels like could be well the future of fashion.

Photo by Elexiay