Fashion has a serious overproduction problem.
The widely cited Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s A New Textiles Economy reported that fashion produced over 100 billion garments in 2015. But considering that was before the explosion of ultra fast fashion, and the industry has grown by 5-6% each year since, this is likely a vast underestimation.
While it may be difficult to wrap our heads around such massive numbers, it might be easier to visualize fashion overproduction when you see photos of Accra, Ghana’s Kantamanto Market or the Atacama Desert’s illegal clothing dump (which has since burned down, leaving a trail of toxic air pollution).
Fashion’s overproduction problems — and resulting waste issues — are often kept under wraps. But when Anna Sacks (also known as The Trash Walker) posted a viral TikTok and Instagram Reel showing intentionally slashed handbags, the comments were flooded with retail workers from a range of fashion brands sharing stories of how they were told to cut up perfectly good merchandise too.
Amanda McCarty of Clotheshorse, also detailed the model of intentional overproduction that the fast fashion brands she worked for used in episode 40 of the Conscious Style Podcast.
But really, what is all of this production for?
From billions of dollars in inventory build-ups at fast fashion brands to luxury fashion houses destroying hundreds of millions worth of stock in an effort to retain images of exclusivity to survey after survey showing that the majority of people are dissatisfied with the clothes in their closets, it’s clear overproduction isn’t really helping anyone in the long-term.
Transparency note: this content was made in collaboration with unspun. As always, we only partner with brands that meet strict criteria for sustainability that we love, and that we think you’ll love too.
Addressing Fashion Overproduction Starts With Slowing Down
A certain ultra fast-fashion brand likes to claim that they are addressing the problem of clothing overproduction and fashion waste by first ordering small quantities of many styles and then seeing what sells before producing more. But that misses the point.
Pre-consumer waste is just one element of the equation. If your clothes are made quickly with inconsistent fits from cheap, itchy, and flimsy fabrics, they have a pretty short shelf life. Not to mention the trend cycle that fast fashion has accelerated, which makes even perfectly good clothes “obsolete” within weeks.
The fashion industry thrives on newness, speed, and the unwritten philosophy of “more, but worse”.
While resale, rental, and recycled materials can be part of the solution, these approaches are not a circular panacea to the industry’s waste crisis or massive ecological footprint. In fact, these circular approaches have thus far shown to not stem production of excess new clothing.
What if, instead, fashion brands had no inventory and only purposefully manufactured what already had a loving home?
What if brands produced only quality go-to pieces, instead of leaving us with trendy impulse buys that are still hanging in our closets (tags still fully intact)?
What if our clothes were made to fit us, rather than feeling like we need to get our bodies to fit our clothes?
unpsun is offering us a blueprint for this vision for fashion with their made-to-order, zero inventory business model.
Made-To-Order, But Make it Modern
When clothes are made to order just for us, they’re often intentionally crafted pieces designed to fit, built to last, and easy to love.
The slow fashion and sustainability benefits of made-to-order are manifold:
- This approach means brands carry very little inventory (or none, in the case of unspun), which means less pre-consumer waste.
- Given the longer waiting time, pieces are intentionally purchased. This can lead to less post-consumer waste.
- When garments are made-to-measure (as they are in the case of unspun), they are made to fit the customer. This means less shopping for the next best thing and more loving what we have — because what mass-produced find at the mall compares to having a pair of jeans perfect just for you?
While we’re probably not going back to the days where we made our own clothes or relied on a rotation of two outfits made by local ateliers, there are ways to embrace made-to-measure fashion that match the convenience we expect in our modern world.
From same-day shipments to groceries dropped off on our doorsteps, we’ve gotten quite used to being able to shop for anything with a few taps of our fingers.
When it comes to fashion, though, this has also led to an influx of returns. In 2021, 1 in 8 garments, or 12.2% of apparel, was returned. Other estimates put ecommerce return rates between 15 and 30%. (And who knows how much of it was resold versus discarded.)
But unpsun may have cracked the code for giving us best of both worlds by enabling individuals to get denim custom fit to their unique body without leaving the comfort of their home.
Zero Inventory, No Sizes, and a 100% Fit Guarantee
unspun is a denim brand with zero inventory and no sizes that makes jeans for actual bodies. Yup, you read that right — say goodbye to vanity sizing, outdated sizing charts, and proportions that don’t work for many (or most?) body types.
Rather than making incremental fixes to a flawed fashion production model, unspun is reimagining what the entire manufacturing process looks like.
Acknowledging and respecting the amount of resources that goes into garment production, unspun doesn’t produce a pair of denim before they’ve been ordered.
This article details more about the made-to-measure process, but essentially how it works is you can pick out the fit (there are several masculine and feminine options) and details of your denim, take a 3D body scan with their app, and unspun will deliver you jeans made just for you. And, in the off-chance that the made-to-measure jeans don’t fit perfectly, unspun will take them back and make it right.
Some tech-centered circularity fixes in the fashion industry are used as a way just to justify overproduction — or are more science-fiction than viable reality.
But this virtual made-to-measure approach — available right here, right now — is the kind of technological advance that could actually reduce overproduction.
Beyond producing fewer items, the virtual made-to-order model also checks the box for the better part of that “fewer, better” equation too. Better fit. Better quality. Better experience.
And that’s a future for fashion we can get behind.