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Is pre-order fashion the way we’ll all soon be shopping?

Is pre-order fashion the way we’ll all soon be shopping?

In a world where everyone is worried about waste, one of the issues plaguing traditional fashion brands and fast-fashion retailers alike is how to stop over-production.

Enter the pre-order model, increasingly being adopted by smaller direct-to-consumer brands and designers. A pre-order set-up allows these designers to create directly for their customers, producing collections in limited runs to minimise waste.

So what does pre-ordering entail? Brands produce in limited quantities, typically tempting customers with pictures of the products. The pieces that go into  production have all been pre-purchased, reducing waste that normally occurs from over-production (think about fast-fashion rails heaving with unwanted merchandise that’s reduced in price but still doesn’t sell, much of which may eventually end up in landfill).

The pre-order model isn’t just good for the planet, it’s good for the brands, helping to generate excitement around each piece in a collection. Customers feel the thrill of getting their hands on what is essentially a limited-edition item – if they don’t act fast, they’ll miss their chance to buy.

Charli Cohen, CEO and creative director behind the eponymous Charli Cohen sportswear label, is a pre-order devotee with sustainability at the core of her brand. Her label exists at the intersection of tech and fashion, and Cohen has collaborated on limited-edition drops with a range of top names including Reebok, Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed and Sanrio’s Gudetama.

“Pre-orders allow us to take a sustainable, zero-waste approach to production, and it gives us a way to push the creative boundaries rather than being enslaved to what’s safely commercial,” she explains. Often, customers who embrace the pre-order model are active followers of brands, interacting with them on social media and subscribing to their newsletters.

Labels from Catherine Holstein’s NYC-based Khaite to Kitri Studio, designed by Haeni Kim, are also in on the action. This is how Kitri’s pre-order model works: styles are produced according to customer demand, with customers signing up to items via a virtual wait list. Items only go into production after they’ve been ordered to minimise excess stock. Customers pay upfront when they pre-order, receiving their pieces within three to eight weeks.

Ethical fashion brand TOAST is also dipping its toe into the waters of the pre-order model, with a recently launched made to order collection that “offers a season-less edit of transitional pieces”. The collection features ikat woven fabric and leather accessories, produced to demand (the brand will expand into interiors and other womenswear in due course).

Of course, there are some drawbacks to the pre-order model, like the frustration of fans who have missed out on select pieces. There’s also the issue of fit and silhouette: since customers order from an image, the garment might not be quite what they’re hoping for (typically, customers can change their minds and get refunded).

However, it seems the benefits far outweigh the downsides. “The customer gets the opportunity to be part of the process, following the journey of their garment from start to finish, and in many cases being able to personalise it,” says Cohen. Essentially, the customer not only gets an exclusive item, but on occasion even has the chance to feel like a co-creator. Now that’s priceless.