The slow fashion movement has been quietly gathering pace over the past few years. From new clothes made consciously with respect for the environment to clothes that are vintage, handmade, reworked and rented, the slow fashion revolution has inspired many of us to adopt a more mindful approach to shopping for our wardrobe. We are seeking out those offering craftsmanship and quality, and we are increasingly choosing local brands to support. And thanks to some enterprising London labels, we are seeing a resurgence of a model that was all but the norm until fast fashion arrived: made to order.
There was a time when having clothes made for you lay at the heart of the fashion industry. Clothes were crafted with care and with longevity in mind, items to be cherished and passed on to the next generation. Of course, the city’s haute couture ateliers and tailors of Savile Row are a reminder that bespoke hasn’t gone away, but, sadly, we have seen fast fashion dominate as our culture has become increasingly throwaway.
In response, the new model of made-to-order fashion is as much about the environment as it is crafting something beautiful that you are unlikely to see being worn by anyone else. By reducing waste in the supply chain and championing inclusive sizing, the new generation of made-to-order brands are helping us shop better. And there’s no need to compromise on style either. As these pioneers prove, slow fashion is always worth the wait.
Founder Lena McCroary got her tailoring training on Savile Row, where she worked as a pattern cutter for five years before branching out to launch her own label, Sanne, in 2017. Her made-to-order pieces blend traditional techniques with modern touches – think bright and bold colour palettes made up of sunshine yellows, hot pinks and electric blues, mixed with fun and quirky patterns designed by up-and-coming illustrators. The brand’s supply chain is kept as short and nimble as possible, with McCroary sourcing many of her fabrics in the UK and producing pieces by hand from her workshop in Battersea. For the full Sanne experience, book in to see the clothes in person at her elegant Chelsea showroom on Cadogan Square.
This east London-based brand started out with just one design: ‘The Oli’, a perfectly executed take on the classic wrap dress. As a former costume designer for films, founder Olivia Hulme has spent the last decade sourcing fabrics, and it was her love affair with textiles that formed the basis of the brand. She tracks down all of the fabrics herself – which are either hand-dyed or taken from the end of the roll – meaning many of her dresses are one-off pieces. Since the runaway success of ‘The Oli’ the brand has launched several new designs, including a wrap top version of the dress and ‘The Ida’, which sees ‘The Oli’ silhouette updated with voluminous balloon sleeves.
This independent slow-fashion brand makes joyful, exuberant clothing with a retro spin. The highlight of founder and seamstress Karina Molby’s designs are the gingham dresses, with voluminous sleeves and cinched in waists. In single, summer-appropriate gingham colours or a tapestry of different fabrics, the midi-length dresses have a wonderfully playful spirit and timeless silhouette. There’s a selection of cherry, banana and strawberry t-shirts too, in similarly colourful designs and with a splash of gingham. Handmade to order, Molby the Label pieces can take up to three weeks to arrive — but are well worth the wait.
Founder Olivia Rose Havelock began her business making garments from her Edinburgh flat, which quickly went on to become an Instagram hit. Her puff sleeved dresses, playful blouses and nightshirt-style dresses have earned Olivia Rose The Label 70,000 followers, and a pop-up in Selfridges a few years ago. The figure-hugging pieces are wonderfully feminine, and the romantic clothing is all made to order from locally sourced fabrics, just as it was when she first started. For an extra personal touch, each package comes with a hand written note from Olivia.
Launched by London-based sisters Hannah and Melissa Collett in 2018, this luxury silk fashion brand creates elegant pieces without any waste. Inspired by their teenage travels in Catalonia and the region’s artistic traditions, their ready-to-wear collections are beautifully simple, with artfully draped dresses, tops and trousers in vibrant reds, blues, gold and olive. Their made-to-order selection also covers accessories, with a curated assortment of silver chain necklaces, earrings and kilt pins with delicate shell details.
When Hannah Cawley first founded her label in 2017, her vision was to create utilitarian wardrobe staples with a feminine twist – now her trans-seasonal garments are stocked at Matches, while you’ll find her refined homeware pieces and ceramics in the Conran Shop. Her sweeping shift dresses and flowing blouses have become firm favourites with those who appreciate fine British craftsmanship and manufacturing, with each of her garments made from responsibly sourced natural fabrics such as cotton, linen and wool sourced from traditional mills in England, Ireland and Portugal.
A sustainable clothing brand that’s on a mission to create meaningful, powerful change in the fashion industry, Fanfare was founded by Esther Knight in 2018. Having worked as a buyer for numerous high street and designer brands, including Vivienne Westwood, Knight was shocked when she saw first-hand the pressure that fast fashion companies place on their suppliers. So, she decided to work towards a solution by launching her own label, where the clothes are made out of sustainably sourced, entirely plastic-free materials, including dead-stock and roll-end fabrics. The brand’s upcycled and premium vintage pieces are truly circular in their nature, with their bestselling embroidered, made-to-order jeans and vintage spliced crop tees at the top of many stylish Londoners’ wish lists.
With its clean lines, strong silhouettes and statement-making staples, this emerging size-inclusive label is starting to make serious waves in the slow fashion world. Founded by Zimbabwe-born designer Ngoni Chikwenengere – who was named as one of Forbes’s 30 under 30 this year – the label prides itself on making garments that are void of trends and fads, instead focusing on pieces that are timeless, wearable and waste-reducing. Working with end of line fabrics at their east London factory, the brand’s innovative approach moves beyond the clothing they make – for example, this season they used 3D renders rather than photographs to show their latest collection – and the label is currently working toward B-Corp certification.
Best known for ethereal prairie, vintage-style dresses and blouses – adorned with ruffles, puff sleeves and oversized collars – each of this brand’s pieces is hand-crafted by skilled seamstress and founder Ciara, who learnt the art of pattern design and dressmaking from her mother and grandmother. Working exclusively with natural and deadstock materials, the designs for the pieces are influenced by the fabrics themselves, which range from exquisite Liberty-patterned silk georgettes to delicate organza and textured jacquard. The one-of-a-kind pieces are firm favourites with some of the fashion industry’s most stylish tastemakers, including Isabel Spearman, who featured an exclusive Benjamin Fox design at her recent Daily Dress Edit pop-up.
Already lauded for its ethical, sustainable approach, Birdsong is another brand that has recently embraced the joy of made to order. Last year, they launched a collection crafted entirely using Tencel™ – a fabric made from sustainable wood pulp – and their pieces are a riot of colour featuring bold prints based on original ink drawings. However, founders Sophie Slater and Sarah Nevil don’t just design beautiful clothes. Birdsong is a call to arms: created by women for women who expect more from their wardrobe. By supporting low-income migrant workers who make the clothes, and by using a Camden-based charity that works with adults with learning disabilities to pack and post orders, this modern-day fashion brand shows it is possible to do so much more.
Another designer with a passion for a bygone era is Mary Benson. A lover of all things vintage, it’s perhaps not surprising that Mary harks back to a time when clothes were created with care and treated as items to be treasured. Her made-to-order designs are flamboyant – think celestial prints and ruffles – with each one crafted using deadstock fabric with meticulous attention to detail (Mary honed her skills working for Alexander McQueen and Richard Nicoll). Rather wonderfully, Mary also offers a pre-loved line of items that have been upcycled and redesigned by her and her team. They’ll even work their magic on your own items should you desire, ensuring they’re given a new lease of life.