In 2021, we launched our End of Roll project, small capsule collections made up with new fabrics and styles with approximately four collections dropped per year.
This month we are launching AL22, a single collection made up of wardrobe staples, with the collection available for a minimum of 12 months.
These two projects, are what I call the AL juxtaposition.
Each project will sit alongside our two main yearly collections (Autumn Winter and Spring Summer), with individual goals and challenges. Both projects are designed to push us as a team as we attempt to navigate whether it is possible to really change the fashion industry's ways, but as a marketer who's job it is to look at everything we do through the eye of the customer, I can see why the two projects appear to contradict one another.
Let's start with the facts.
End of Roll:
- 4 small capsule collections drop per year
- Fabric is limited, dependent on how much can be sourced, and therefore product numbers and styles cannot be predicted
- End of Roll garments are made to order, however they are cut and sewn in a single production run. This means that regardless of the amount of fabric, there is a cut off date to place your order....and once the date has passed, the design is gone for good
- A single drop, available to shop for a minimum of 12 months
- A limited number of fabrics and styles will be available, designed to be the most wearable and transitional pieces that you need in your wardrobe all year round
- Each garment is made to order, as and when the order is placed
So on the one hand you have a collection which drops and disappears in the blink of an eye (not that dissimilar to the high street); whilst AL22 is highlighting the key pieces that you can pop in your wardrobe and know that you can utilise them all year round.
I am aware that it is pretty much unheard of it for a business to have what feels like contradicting messages, however these two areas of AL have very specific goals to challenge specific areas of the fashion industry.
The first is over production. In the last two years AL has certainly made some steps in the right direction, when we moved our business model to Made to Order. With garment production at an all time high and the majority of the industry focusing on prospective sales (rather than looking at actual consumer needs) the amount of stock being produced for brands is colossal.
Being Made to Order certainly helps when it comes to over production from the consumer side, however as we know, if you are looking at point where the customer parts with their money, then you are quite literally only looking at the end.
Go all the way back to the beginning and you have a designer with their team who have to take their creativity from paper to samples. We have always said, AL is first and foremost a design company and therefore sampling is something that will always be a big part of what we do.
As AL continues to grow there is a need to push the boundaries, work with new fabrics, work with new machines, try new designs, listen to customer feedback and improve. Because AL is a small company only dropping two main collections per year, we have to go in with a certain amount of confidence that we are designing and producing clothes that people actually want / need. Which brings us to our End of Roll collections.
So why End of Roll? It is about addressing our business challenges, working out how to scale, but without doing so to the detriment of our planet.
When you are a small business, putting a new product out there is incredibly daunting. The reaction and feedback from customers are crucial to AL moving forwards and improving. By being able to drop a design in a limited run allows us to analyse whether there is a true need for a certain design. We can quickly determine from an End of Roll drop whether it is something that our customer would need in future and thus whether it is transferred to the main Autumn Winter or Spring Summer collections.
In recent years, we have increased our sizing from S - XXL to XS - 5XL. Inclusive sizing is something we are able to offer, without at the same time being wasteful, due to our Made to Order business model. When designing Heidi wants to ensure we are being as inclusive as possible and knowing that not every style will suit all body shapes, each End of Roll collection allows us to try different styles and gage customer feedback in terms of what works for them.
By only working with end of roll fabrics, we are sampling and designing with fabrics that are in existence as apposed to putting new fabrics into production with a mill. A good example being prints. Heidi loves prints, however we have always aired on the side of caution (ie not including them in a single main collection) as they can be quite trend heavy and we have been unsure as to whether they are something our customers would want.
Every time we add a new fabric to a collection, our production model often has to be reviewed. When you make to order, the garments being cut and sewn are purely based on what the customer orders. Increasing the types of fabrics available can mean changes to needles, threads and ultimately this increased the production time. Typically factories produce garments in bulk (ie produce large quantities of stock) which is a much quicker process, however as we have chosen our made to order business model we have to ensure that we are never asking too much of our team and that the production of new fabrics is physically possible.
So with the End of Roll acting as our experimental design and production arm of the business, why then introduce an annual collection? AL22 aims to be the experimental business model arm.
We might not be fast fashion, but life often feels very fast at AL and we are ready to slow down.
Fast Fashion is exactly what is says on the tin. Fast. Take your favourite high street retailer; a collection drops, you place your order, it arrives in record time, but before you've managed to wear it more than once, a new selection of product has dropped on their website.
Now, we have made some steps in the right direction when it comes to this. We consciously drop all our garments for our main collections - Autumn Winter / Spring Summer - in one go, in an effort to discourage this scarcity and over consumption.....however is it possible to go even slower?
At this point it is worth saying that although we we would love to just give it a go, to stop all our other collections and launch one single, incredibly sustainable collection per year, unfortunately right now that would be the end of AL.
Consumers aren't currently ready for a big shake up to their shopping habits and based on our tiny customer database, if we stopped dropping two collections a year, we wouldn't make enough money to employ our team and thus continue to produce in-house.
However, this won't stop us from trying! We will make our annual collection and in doing so we will bring you on this journey. We will address every area of putting this collection together externally - from fabrics to pricing, from marketing to morals - to better help people understand the challenges of working in an industry that traditionally keeps a lot hidden behind closed doors.
Not only will the collection be available, but it will allow us to spend time on the areas of the business that we often fail to improve upon because we run out of time and are onto the next collection. A good example is sizing. We offer 9 sizes, however sourcing a minimum of 9 models to represent and wear each size each time we launch a collection has been virtually impossible. We will use the 12 months we have with the annual collection, to find models and really highlight people of all body shapes and size in our garment styles.
So in essence these two collections / projects are both platforms for AL to work to do better. They will allow us to push our own internal boundaries, whilst also bringing the customer in and truly being a part of AL which we are forever calling our wonderful community.
Shop AL22 here