The Next Stage of Our Journey Towards Sustainable and Efficient Clothing Production In House
Almost a decade ago, we started with a DIY attitude, sewing our first organic t-shirts and sewing labels onto them using our Gran's Singer sewing machine from the 1970s. However, as we grew, we discovered that the traditional clothing production process was inefficient, wasteful, and environmentally damaging.
Our Obsession with Perfection and the Slow Feedback Loop
The traditional feedback loop of sending off tech packs and receiving samples back and forth was too slow for us, and made it challenging and stale to create, refine, and iterate designs. A cliche, but we were obsessed with perfection, which made the process tedious and strained the relationship with the poor seamstresses who had to re-craft a new garment for every small change, resulting in high carbon emissions and environmental impact as the samples were shipped back and forth across the globe, spitting carbon emissions all the way.
Our Utopian Dream and the Challenging Reality
We dreamed of having our own full-service factory to have more control, speed, less waste and a reduced environmental impact. However, the complexity of creating entire garments from start to finish was far beyond our skillset. But, when supply chains started falling apart due to Covid-19 shutdowns, Suez Canal blockages, and what still feels like the very vestibules of globalization stretching at the seams, we decided to bring forward the long-term plan of producing our clothing in our own production unit.
We faced numerous challenges during this fun and exciting process. Each time we took steps forward, we encountered new headaches. The starter point was figuring out what machinery we needed, what products we could make, and refine them to be straight forward enough to be constructed using our available equipment. We encountered more headaches, shoulder pains, back pains, cut fingers and sleepless nights - but we carried on sewing, making mistakes, learning from them, and getting better while steadily growing our production capacity. We even moved to a bigger unit, allowing us to get more machines, hire more people, and have more space.
The Made-to-Order Model
We settled on the made-to-order model, which in theory, is efficient, environmentally friendly, and great from a business perspective. However, in practice, we faced challenges in managing production, predicting demand spikes and dips, and dealing with issues with key components such as fabric or zippers, which could cause significant delays. It was challenging to keep customers informed and updated, which led to sending out confused groveling emails to our customers who received a bad experience.
The November to Christmas Rush
The system was not working, and it became evident during the November to Christmas rush. The hard deadline of getting gifts in time and the seasonal demand patterns made it unreasonable to expect the same time frame for production of a pair of trousers during a quiet August week compared to the depths of December. It was beyond our limited resources to effectively manage and communicate this, and we ended up being busy idiots.
There were periods of mild to moderate delierium as we put in 60-70 hour weeks, twin needling messenger bags, packing orders, and QCing zamas to the point it illuminated our eyelids as we drifted off in to sleep - and we still missed the mark on too many orders. Something which particularly rankled, having in previous years spent Christmas Eve delivering parcels by hand to make sure they got there in time.
Of course, this wasn't made any easier by by the UK's entire delivery network basically breaking down due to Royal Mail strikes.
The current system was setting us up to fail, but more importantly was that our system was making us fail.
Improving Our System
So we had lots of conversations on how to improve it, off the back of these conversations - things got slightly better, but fundamentally we knew it wasn’t working. Too much time was being spent on providing a shit experience, which ultimately wasn’t working for anybody (except the courier companies who kept getting paid no matter how naff a service they provided). We were being what is affectionately known as busy idiots. We were basically faced with two realistic options, increase the price of anything made to order on the website by about double or move to a different system entirely. Increasing the price was not something that we were willing to do, so that was thrown out of the window almost instantly, defenestrated within minutes. We have always aimed to make great quality, premium clothing as sustainably as possible without the price tag to match it. So we knew the model had to change, but the model still needed to incorporate the benefits of made to order whilst removing the headaches.
The New System
After a load of mapping, discussion, thought, planning and all the other bits (mainly drawing a load of arrows between icons of different bits of software we use) and going through this with an expert outside the business who was capable of seeing the wood for the trees- we decided to manufacture in small runs, pre-selling each run before it is manufactured meaning we could get accurate numbers in advance, right up to the point of cutting the fabric. These would basically be pre-orders for each production run, which we had discussed before. But the level of complexity around organizing and maintaining pre-orders was something we had issues in the past with many years ago, and it wasn’t something we wanted to repeat.
Luckily, we found a great new partner - Purple Dot. Who have built software from the ground up that enables pre-orders to be simple for both us and the customer. We are able to update customers immediately should there be a delay, the customer can cancel or change their order without even needing to speak to us and we can partially ship stock when it is ready in a streamlined, effective process.
The delivery window is clearly labeled on the product page, there’s no doubt about lead times or anything else. Meaning we’re now able to organize our production in advance in small, batch runs. Meaning we can keep our prices down, focus on quality and get back to providing a great customer experience to go with our great clothing.