Building a digital atelier: How made-to-order technology can help the fashion industry combat waste

Just as every potential author has at least one book in them, every potential entrepreneur has at least one great disruptive idea in them. In my case, when inspiration struck, I knew exactly which big picture I wanted to disrupt. The fashion industry has long been centred almost entirely around what designers and brands want to sell, rather than what consumers want to buy. But it’s clear that this model is rapidly losing ground.

Far from simply conforming to mainstream ideals, today consumers are increasingly focusing on their individual expression; especially when it comes to fashion. Also, today’s customers care much more about the environmental and societal impact of their choices and their favourite brands’ practices. The time is ripe for a transition to a textile system that delivers better economic, societal, and environmental outcomes; and it was against this backdrop that Gonçalo Cruz and I founded [PlatformE](file:///C:/Users/ella.darlington/AppData/Local/Microsoft/Windows/INetCache/Content.Outlook/O5U1M7N5/platforme.com).

Once we honed our idea, we knew getting funding would hold the key to taking us from concept to reality on the scale we were looking for. To that end, we recently received $12 million of Series B funding, which will help us continue to power ahead with the expansion we have in mind. Our mission is to deliver innovation in how fashion is created, while also addressing one of the industry’s biggest challenges – that of waste through overproduction.

While many governments and household names in the fashion industry have made their own pledges and commitments to tackling this phenomenon, the need for further disruptive thinking and action is very clear. For example, when garments are cut out as patterns, for instance, as much as 15 per cent of the fabric can end up on the cutting room floor. And once the production runs are set up, the norm is almost always to over produce (risking wastage) rather than underproduce (risking sales revenue).

But what if we could interrupt these cycles of waste, using new technology, built on age-old wisdom. Made to order (MTO) fashion is not actually a new concept. Quite the opposite. From the heyday of tailors, dressmakers and cobblers, for the majority of its history, the fashion industry has been focused on customisation and bespoke production. And even today personalised products are far more likely to worn and kept for longer than an off-the-rack purchase. What could the modern-day bespoke fashion experience look like at scale?

Platforme’s technology allows brands to launch rich made-to-order experiences on digital and retail channels (e-commerce, social media or in-store), adapting to specific brands’ needs and being easily integrated into existing systems. Our technology also enables the end customer to be part of the (co) product creation process, giving them the chance to combine different materials, colours, accessories and the possibility of creating millions of combinations before finishing their MTO production request.

In commercial terms, the potential is significant. According to Deloitte research, one in three consumers surveyed were interested in personalised products, with 71 per cent of those prepared to pay a premium for such embellishments. Moreover, focusing on the fashion sector, 15 per cent of those asked are prepared to pay a substantial mark-up – more than 40 per cent over the asking price – for such items. For retailers, the opportunities abound. PlatformE is helping fashion, footwear and accessories brands transition to digital collections and MTO, where they can expect the customised products stream to account for an estimated 10-20 per cent of total business generated.

In practical terms digitalisation of the customisation process means drastically reducing the millions of sample products created and discarded. It can also significantly streamline large production runs, minimising the amount of unused clothes which end up in landfill or even burned.

PlatformE’s recent round of funding will be instrumental in the operational developments we will be making across fashion, footwear, accessories industries to tackle overproduction.

Ultimately the fashion industry will have to make a lot of changes across the board. But for now, MTO technology can significantly reduce the march of overproduction – while still offering customer satisfaction, brand engagement and opportunities to increase sales.