How NJAL Is Revolutionizing Retail with Made-to-Order
The fashion industry has been having a hard time moving away from an inefficient, old way of doing things, manufacturing items that will hit the retail shelves two or three years ahead. Once the items are on sale, retailers will have to monitor the sales of each item carefully. Because retailers don't have unlimited space in warehouses or stockrooms, items that don't have a shot at ever being sold have to be discarded.
Considering the cost of producing the item and maintaining the unproductive inventory, brands hardly dispose of dead inventory in a responsible way at the end of the season. In 2018, Burberry admitted in its annual report that "demolishing goods was just part of its strategy to preserve its reputation of exclusivity.” Shoppers were outraged and started boycotting Burberry over its wastefulness. Members of Parliament demanded the British government to crack down on the practice. As a result, Burberry announced that it would no longer destroy its excess products.
Unfortunately, Burberry is not the only company to use this practice, from luxury to fast fashion brands such as Louis Vuitton or H&M, destroying dead inventory is a common practice. The fashion industry is wasting away all the natural and human resources that went into creating the items without considering the fact that every dollar spent on what became dead inventory is valuable money that could have been put towards better talent or an improved business model.
The solution to reconstructing a more efficient and less wasteful industry perhaps lies in addressing how retailers and brands are purchasing and producing in the first place.
As consumers are increasingly aware of the fashion industry's unsustainable practices and contribution to climate change, they wish to make conscious buying decisions. They also want to own something unique and personalised, which is especially true with Millennials and Gen-Z consumers.
However, the fashion industry has not given them a place to make purchases based on their value or empowered them with knowledge and tools to make the right decision. Nobody is offering truly personalised items, either. How can they when things are produced months in advance in huge quantities? Attempting to provide some sort of customisation to customers, Gucci offered to engrave the customer's name on leather goods and call it 'bespoke' to make it sound alluring.
But consumers nowadays are well-informed. Brands and retailers cannot just dupe consumers by practising deceptive greenwashing. Whatever the value retailers try to match with consumers, they have to bring the genuine product and intimate experience to the table and become as transparent as possible. So can the fashion industry overcome its efficiency and sustainability issues?
At Not Just A Label, designers have 21 days to dispatch their orders so that designers can create garments made-to-order where the designers only handmake pieces entirely from scratch after a confirmed order is received, which eradicates the production of surplus stock and results in exquisite craftsmanship in most cases, or as designers are calling it ‘cut to order’ where they have the fabric ready, but only start cutting it once the order comes in.
With a made-to-order model, NJAL can accomplish a few things. First, it provides emerging designers with a place where they can operate locally and sell globally and creates cash flow. Since the majority of designers that sell on NJAL's platform are small businesses that source, design and manufacture locally, they are already transparent. Customers can see that the money they spend goes toward the designer and supports the designers’ local community.
By connecting the designers and consumers directly, NJAL can bring customers personalised, even bespoke tailoring and one-of-a-kind fashion. For instance, a male customer ordered a few womenswear garments then requested the designers to create them in men's sizes, specifically to the customers’ body measurements. They are these one-on-one moments with a designer and a high degree of customisation that off-the-rack retailers cannot offer.
"For me, our most important mission is: we need to stop the destruction of the planet. There's nothing else that's more important than that. If you put that first, everything becomes clearer. We will realise how inefficient we are, especially in fashion. I think the solution is on-demand manufacturing. And being able to provide customers with something different," Founder of NJAL, Stefan Siegel stated during Business of Fashion's BoFLive: "How Gen-Z Buys Luxury"
The only 'downside' of made-to-order fashion is that customers at NJAL have to wait up to 21 days for their items to be delivered. In the era of next-day delivery and instant gratification, making customers wait for nearly a month might seem unrealistic.
But perhaps a brighter future beckons. In August, 67% of all orders on NJAL were made-to-order, demonstrating that customers are willing to wait and wanting something that nobody else has. They understand that they are not just paying for the product, but also for the social currency of supporting on-the-rise designers and investing in something that lasts a lifetime.
Consumers are ready to embrace new ways to interact with fashion and the industry cannot let this opportunity pass by. Although the fashion industry has been reluctant to change, retailers and brand owners might just recognise that made-to-order production has the potential to address some of fashion's most glaring pain points, including dead inventory and CRM. It will require the efforts of the entire industry until made-to-order trickle into the mainstream, but NJAL will lead the way and inspire others to follow suit. Not Just A Label is the future of fashion.