Lampoon, Daniella Samper, Elias Stahl
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Disrupting the fast-fashion industry: one garment at a time – Daniella Samper and Elias Stahl

Here are two visions of the future where fashion retailers say ‘no’ to deadstock, and produce only what customers need

One of the biggest problems in the fashion industry is the excess clothing leftover after a season. Aptly named deadstock, these leftover garments often get thrown away. In an effort to eliminate excess production, designers Daniella Samper and Elias Stahl are choosing to operate on a made-to-order model.

The cost of production

There’s an estimated 11.3 million tons of textile waste annually in the U.S. alone. That’s the equivalent of 2,150 pieces of clothing being thrown away per second. The total fiber input for clothing is tossed at a rate of eighty-seven percent. The production process is also costly. Ten percent of global CO2 emissions come from the fashion industry, with three percent from dyeing and finishing. Fashion retail also accounts for twenty percent of global water pollution. 

The footwear industry is accountable for one point four percent of annual global carbon emissions. There’s an estimated annual production rate of twenty-four billion shoes, and a standard pair of shoes releases an average carbon emission of 30 kilograms. When shoes outlive their wear, one in five are thrown away and go to landfills. Only five percent of shoes get recycled. 

lampoon magazine The Ajaie Alaie evil eye cardigan is made on a handloom in Lima, Peru out of 100% cotton, and will be available in the SS22 release
The Ajaie Alaie evil eye cardigan is made on a handloom in Lima, Peru out of 100% cotton, and will be available in the SS22 release.

What does producing apparel made-to-order entail? Daniella Samper

For fashion retailers that operate on a made-to-order model, the clothing isn’t dyed, cut, or sewn until an order is placed. By waiting for purchase prior to production, retailers ensure that all manufactured items are sold. This means that no excess dye, water, or materials are wasted on deadstock. In addition to saving materials, the made-to-order model can also save retailers money – if one garment isn’t popular, it just won’t be produced. In a regular production model, a retailer would have multiple garments leftover which they would then have to try to re-sell to a wholesaler. 

Womenswear label Ajaie Alaie transitioned to a fully made-to-order supply chain model in 2020, just five years after launching. All of the garments are produced by hand in small, responsibly run facilities in Peru and India. The garments made from alpaca and cotton are produced in Peru, and the linen and silk garments are produced in India.

The label works with Innovative Knitwear, a women-owned workshop in Lima, Peru that specifically works with smaller brands that can ensure fair pay for workers. Only when customers place an order online does the yarn get dyed and the fabric cut. Natural dyeing is done by Pichinku Fibers, a coop in Cusco, Peru. The garments are specialty, investment pieces. «I’m not interested in producing a collection of forty styles, I want to produce what makes sense. This model is helping me know myself, the customer, and the brand more. I can count with both hands how many pieces I had left from my past collection», says Daniella Samper, Founder and Creative Director of Ajaie Alaie.

When operating on a traditional retail model, companies launch new styles based on predictions. It becomes a guessing game as to which items will resonate with consumers and a race to keep up with trends. «Before I was more concerned with operating how the industry works. Now I’m taking more of a designer, artist approach rather than a brand approach». 

Most fast-fashion retailers use synthetic fibers such as polyester in their products. Polyester yarn is projected to reach $106 billion in 2022, and increase in production by forty-seven percent over the next ten years. Retailers that use synthetic materials are also contributing to oceanic pollution. With every wash and wear, polyester-based clothing sheds microplastics, which pollute the environment. Blended fibers are also known for being harder to recycle. By working on a made-to-order model, Samper has been able to invest in high-quality fabrics such as alpaca and linen. «It allows me to source better materials and it’s cutting down the costs of having to work with inventory. We’re just using water for ten pants rather than thirty. Labor and electricity get reduced to what’s truly needed».

What does it take to produce a shoe? Elias Stahl

The average shoe is constructed from sixty-five individual pieces. Depending on the shoe style, there may also be laces or a heel. HILOS, Inc. is disrupting this model with a three-piece design. The Portland-based company, which just won SXSW Innovative World Technology, produces 3D printed footwear. Each shoe HILOS, Inc. produces has a 3D printed platform which encompasses the heel, shank, insole, sole, and outsole – all in one. The other two pieces are the liner and upper.

The platform starts out as a powder, and then gets printed into a 3D piece that makes up the base of all the shoe styles HILOS, Inc produces. The first products came out in 2021 after two years of refining the production model. «We knew that in order to break beyond the two percent of people that only bought sustainable, the product would have to be way more compelling. With 3D printing you can take a three-inch heel that normally kills your feet after an hour, and you can make it so it’s dynamic, it’s flexible. It’s completely different on the user’s gate. It has a woven mesh infill so it’s way more comfortable», says Elias Stahl, Founder and Chief Executive of HILOS, Inc.

Each shoe starts out as a digital file. Once a customer places an order, the file gets sent to the digital printer in Portland where the shoe platform gets produced. Then, the leather or textile based upper pieces are added, depending on the shoe style. Each shoe uses one gram of glue to produce. Through on-demand production, HILOS, Inc. has been able to significantly reduce carbon usage. The company has produced the first environmental assessment of 3D printed shoes, noting that on-demand production reduces C02 production by twenty percent compared to the average shoe. Compared to traditional manufacturing, the Emmet shoe has a ninety-nine percent reduction in water usage, and a forty-eight percent reduction in C02. «By making, printing, and having more assembly happen in-market, you’re making a much cleaner energy footprint. If you can minimize the steps, you can minimize labor input». 

Lampoon Magazine Once the HILOS platforms come out of the 3D printer, they go through a process of de powdering and post processing. Photo Credit Nicholas Peter Wilson
Once the HILOS platforms come out of the 3D printer, they go through a process of de powdering and post processing. Photo Credit Nicholas Peter Wilson

Keeping up with supply and demand. Daniella Samper

Around ninety-seven percent of garments are made overseas. By outsourcing materials and production, retailers can cut down on costs for labor and materials. China is known for being the largest global exporter of apparel and footwear. Other major export countries are Vietnam and Italy for footwear, and India for apparel. While exporting the manufacturing process can cut overhead costs, it brings up issues such as shipping time, which only increases with the made-to-order model.

Because each garment is only made once the order is placed, there is a long window of wait time from order to shipment. Shoppers are accustomed to immediate purchases in-store, or a standard five-day shipping wait for online orders. However, a made-to-order model can take several weeks for production and shipping. For label Ajaie Alaie, garments can take anywhere from six to eight weeks to ship to customers. «The biggest challenge is cash flow and keeping orders consistent. Our sales are higher when we have ready to ship product. It’s a challenge to get the customer to understand that it’s ok to wait, to have an understanding of the long-term vision», says Daniella Samper.

The designer plans ahead and orders materials sixty days before launching a product online. Knitwear takes around eight to twelve weeks for yarn ordering and five weeks for production. Ajaie Alaie has limited runs: currently Samper is releasing one new style per month. The latest style is the Mirame Dress, a bohemian midi-dress made from cotton and modal, which is available to pre-order in three colors. «It’s more efficient to buy fabric and dye it all at once», says Samper. Because the garments are made-to-order, she has also been able to expand her size range. The Mirame Dress is available in XS to XXL, and a range of petite sizes. «Having an expansive size range is very expensive to stock, so with this model, I cut on the risk of producing and not selling».

Despite the many practicalities of made-to-order, Samper notes that she still sometimes feels pressure from the fashion industry to keep producing new items and keep up seasonally. «You have to introduce newness if you want to stay afloat. Customers won’t shop from you if you’re not introducing newness». Beyond the traditional Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter seasons in fashion, fast fashion retailers operate on micro-seasons, producing at a scale of fifty-two seasons. The demand for new, trendy pieces is an unattainable feat. 

Manufacturing shoes with a focus on efficiency. Elias Stahl

For HILOS, Inc. all shoes are manufactured in the U.S. in Portland, Oregon. The 3D printed platform base  is made from an advanced TPU power developed by BASF Forward AM. All leathers used for the lining and upper are sourced from gold-rated tanneries through the Leather Working Group, and vegetable tanned.

Whereas current traditional supply chains focus on volume and price, HILOS, Inc. is focused on efficiency. The average fulfillment time for orders is seventy-two hours from clicking purchase to shipment. 

Currently, the brand sells four styles of shoes: clogs, mules, loafers, and heels. HILOS, Inc will be releasing its first sandal this summer. The addition of the ‘Stevie’ sandal came about due to customer feedback. After receiving several requests for a sandal style, the team decided it was time to create the new style. «We focus on silhouette holes in our line and listen to the audience we built». HILOS, Inc. designs new products based on customer requests rather than following a trend cycle. 

The company is taking the three-piece shoe design formula and running with it. HILOS, Inc. collaborated with Helm Boots on the ‘Emmett’, a slip-on leather slider, and has contracts with several other companies for products that will be released in the Fall. «We’re passionate about showing how this technology can re-envision classics».

What is the future of made-to-order? Daniella Samper

There are clear benefits of the made-to-order production model. Limited production runs eliminate deadstock, cut down on resource usage, provide designers with more money to invest in higher-quality materials. Also it offers more opportunity for size inclusivity. «Before operating on a made-to-order model, I had all these pieces leftover. About five hundred units in total leftover from previous seasons. It took me three years to get rid of all the leftover products», says Daniella Samper.

The concept of made-to-order isn’t a new one, but it does require a value-add to entice customers. Shopping made-to-order is often more expensive, and requires a «more specific customer that understands the story behind each product».

Made-to-order fashion

The fashion production model focuses on apparel and footwear that is produced after an order has been placed by a customer. HILOS, Inc. and Ajaie Alaie are both companies that operate on a made-to-order model in an effort to eliminate deadstock and have a positive impact on the environment.

Molly Cohen

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
crafted according to our editorial search

Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
for more info, please email us

check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
crafted according to our editorial search

Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore
Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only
natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
for more info, please email us at [email protected]

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