This week, very excitingly, we mentioned on social media that AL is looking to add to our current Made to Order offering, with Made to Measure.
For those who are new, a little bit of backstory: our business model changed to Made to Order in 2018 and rom there it took us about 18 months to expand our sizing from 5 sizes (S-2XL) to 9 sizes (XS -5XL). The business model change allowed us to increase our sizing to be more inclusive, but without at the detriment to the planet (by making only what customers order).
Once Made to Order was live and despite the increased size offering we definitely had requests for custom changes to orders. We understand that every body shape differs and the need for clothes to fit as you wish are key to feeling confident in what you wear.
When it comes to business decisions, we are small (with no funding) and so every decision we make, Heidi and I have to be 100% aligned upon. Steps forward always involve risk and so whilst Heidi has been pushing hard over the past few years to add Made to Measure, it is safe to say I have been pushing back. When I say pushing back, it had nothing to do with the concept, but instead the mammoth undertaking to essentially add another arm to our production and business model.
From the outside I can totally understand why the thought process would be 'if a brand can offer Made to Order, then surely they can do custom and just tweak garments?' however I wish it was that simple!
To get to the point we are at now, where we are finally getting Made to Measure off the ground, here is top line rundown of conversations and steps we have taken.
Incorporating Made to Measure into Made to Order
Very quickly after launching Made to Order, custom requests came in and so we quickly drew the line with a blanket 'no'. Custom requests can range from tiny tweaks through to tailoring for a specific size and it did not seem fair to accommodate some and not others, so we have turned down all requests.
When the requests for custom came in, more often than not, people offered to pay for the changes. Turning down business is one of the hardest things you can do as a small business however we knew that if we were ever going to launch Made to Measure we would need to look at the market, understand what our customers would need and price it fairly for both customers and our team who would make the garments
Creating a Made to Order business model with a 5 day turnaround has been one of AL's greatest achievements. We have two cutters, three seamstresses and one seriously geeky spreadsheet that downloads all the orders, has all the formulas to create cut and sew lists with accompanying stickers, which give everyone in the production studio all they need to know to create your garments. To add Made to Measure to the business, it will involve an entirely new production model, but my main focus has to be to ensure it doesn't hinder the existing business model.
In order for Made to Measure to run alongside Made to Order, we need a team big enough* to cope with both types of orders. (*And by big enough, I mean that when Heidi first brought Made to Measure to the table, we were still operating in our old studio, with Heidi cutting the majority of the orders and we had two part time seamstresses.) The only thing worse that turning down business, is taking orders and being unable to fulfil them. To launch a new arm of the business that would potentially mean hitting capacity immediately, was in my opinion, the worst thing we could do.
Rewind even further and before we can even consider the team's capacity to make the garments, we need to work out how we take Made to Measure orders from paper to our cutting team. We are predominantly a design business and so although Heidi makes patterns for her designs each season, we are not tailoring and therefore will not be able to create individual patterns for single orders. With that in mind, Heidi and I have come to a compromise(!) - if she could give me a selection of styles we will trial Made to Measure. It wouldn't be full custom, but we would work out how we can better accommodate customer needs whilst also feeding this information through easily to our production team.
As mentioned at the beginning of this blog, every time we make a business decision Heidi and I have to be 100% aligned. Maybe it is the inner geek in me, but I can't help but look at the stats and more often than not want proof that there is appetite for us to launch something before we give it the green light. So we have been trialling it...for the last couple of seasons we gave you the option to add length to add to our dresses. This was our first test, to see if anyone took us up on the opportunity and figure out how we embed changes in length into the production model. And it took for us to put it into practise and prove it was physically possible, along with Heidi's relentless passion for wanting to incorporate this into the business that has put Made to Measure on the AL table!
So what is next?
Heidi has given me her Made to Measure proposal and what she believes is achievable. It contains key styles which I am now working on with our head seamstress, Ausra, to determine what her team can do. From there I will look at how we can bring this into our website and most likely create another huge spreadsheet to manage the smooth running of production. Pricing will be the final piece to the puzzle once we know that we can really bring Made to Measure to life.
How can you help?
Oh my gosh, I will definitely need your help! When we launch, it will be a soft launch, featuring key products. What I need is input from you, our wonderful customers, to understand what you would be looking for. I have created a Google form and if you can take 5 mins of your time to fill it in I will be truly grateful. And because we all love an incentive, if you fill in the form, you will entered into a prize draw to win an AL garment of your choice!
Thank you in advance, exciting times lie ahead!