On-demand manufacturing has been held up as both an ideal business model and an idealistic pipe dream in the apparel industry. Making garments to order cuts down on waste and inventory liability, allowing designers to quickly move through creative concepts and hit on emerging trends. But it’s also tough to develop individualized products at the pace modern consumers expect—especially at scale.
Sarah Chessis began her career in apparel after two decades in UK finance, noting the inefficiencies and waste-making ways of a sector plagued by overproduction. She believed that clothes should only be made if there was a demonstrated demand for them, and that manufacturers should make use of materials already in circulation when developing new lines.
This concept spurred the birth of Sew Sew You, an on-demand product development, manufacturing and sales firm, in 2018. Rather than take on the industry at large, Dubai-based Chessis sought to create an ecosystem that would allow individuals to create their own limited activewear capsule collections to be sold online.
“The influencer market was taking off when we formulated the idea,” she told Sourcing Journal. She noted that in the digital age, many shoppers click “buy” on Instagram more often than they visit their local boutiques or malls, trusting social media personalities and public figures to recommend products. A factory partner in China, which had agreed to work with Chessis on a previous on-demand project, helped bring the concept to life. “We felt that there would be lots of people who wanted to create their own clothing collections, and we could do it for them,” she said.
Sew Sew You allows influencers to design capsules, which usually contain between four to 10 pieces like leggings, joggers, sports bras and hoodies, at no upfront cost. The firm’s design team uses the proprietary 3D fit and product development software Chessis developed to turn a full body scan of their creative partner into an avatar. Designers digitally create the collection to reduce wasteful sample production. After a typical five-week digital production timeframe, the collection is launched on Sew Sew You’s website and Instagram page. Influencers can promote their namesake lines and direct followers to shop through the app.
Each drop remains live for up to four days, Chessis said. The time limit drives up anticipation around launches while limiting overselling. Once the clock runs down, the orders are tallied and sent to the company’s activewear factory in the Philippines to be made using fabrics salvaged from other brands’ production runs. “We are able to aggregate the orders, create them, ship them, and then we’re on to the next drop,” she said.
The business model allows influencers to test the creative waters without putting down money up front. “We want to completely de-risk it for them,” Chessis said, noting that Sew Sew You doesn’t set sales targets for these collaborations. Influencers are paid a set percentage of the collection’s top line revenue, while the firm absorbs the cost of design, development, manufacturing and fulfillment through Shopify.
“We’ve gotten good, in recent years, at making sure that the right influencer is paired with the right product,” she said, noting that the lines that resonate most with shoppers are those that feel authentic to their creators. Fitness influencers often opt for performance apparel, while those promoting more lifestyle content gravitate to more casual styles. Sew Sew You has worked with 26 influencer partners so far, some with hundreds of thousands of followers. Sales don’t always align with the size of a social media star’s base, however. “A lot of it it is really more about engagement,” Chessis said.
Sew Sew You offers significant opportunities for growth, she added. “It was really important to make sure that our processes are on point, that we’re doing a great job for our influencers,” she said. Moving forward, Chessis aims to work with a variety of factories with “excess capacity and excess fabrics” across the globe, commissioning limited production runs based on pre-sales. Sew Sew You recently partnered with a Chinese factory with knitwear capabilities as it gears up to expand its product offerings.
“The market is endless,” she said. “And I think that applying an on-demand model is going to dramatically change the way that the whole supply chain works.”