Almost all clothing is handmade, there’s just a different value placed on different hands,” says Ashiya Omundsen, founder of the made-to-order womenswear brand Par Moi. “Even most fast fashion is handmade, but there’s a pressure put on those hands to produce things quickly and that’s something that needs to change.”
Ashiya is part of a new wave of Instagram-born, bespoke-lead designers who are fighting the traditional wasteful models of the industry. Par Moi, the brand’s website reads, “was born in defiance of fast fashion”.
After taking some time out of the industry following the collapse of her previous brand, Ashiya founded Par Moi in 2019 with a totally different approach. “I was feeling jaded about the industry,” she says. “I wanted to forget about the standard rules.” Those standard rules have long dominated, tying brands to a gruelling cycle of seasonal drops, high volumes of inventory, unfavourable wholesale deals, sales periods and excess stock ending up in landfill. Despite the buzz around sustainability, fashion is moving more rapidly than ever. Today’s fast fashion giants work to 52 micro-seasons a year, producing weekly “collections” that result in a towering supply of stock destined — one way or another — for landfill. In Australia, 36,000 kilos of clothes and shoes are dumped into landfill every hour. Cheaply made garments with a short shelf life means the fashion industry now accounts for 10 per cent of global carbon emissions.
Unlike the piles of unsold clothes that accumulated during lockdown, made-to-order brands like Par Moi solve many of these issues by producing only to meet demand. True to the brand’s name (which translates from French to “by me”), Ashiya operates on a fully custom model, sewing each piece by hand in her Melbourne studio. She doesn’t have to worry about selling out and excess inventory doesn’t run the risk of being marked down or ending up in landfill.
Par Moi pieces are seasonless, a decision that is meant to discourage the cycle of waste fuelled by trends. Ultra-feminine, puff-sleeved dresses are paired with tailoring-inspired two pieces and blouses with bold, structured collars. The aesthetic is all Ashiya’s, rather than being tied to a specific trend or moment in time, so no piece could ever be described as “last season”.
To keep the environmental impact to a minimum, Ashiya uses locally-sourced deadstock fabrics, largely made from natural, biodegradable materials. “There’s no overproduction, there’s no waste — I only make exactly the sizes that are ordered,” she says. “If for some reason a style doesn’t sell, I can use the fabric for a different style. Nothing goes to landfill, nothing ever needs to go on sale.”
While typically associated with sustainability, made-to-order brands are inherently more size-inclusive because pieces are crafted to the customer’s measurements. “If someone wants something in a different length or a different size to what I offer, they can get in touch and I can accommodate those requests,” says Ashiya.
There is also an element of luxury that makes bespoke-made items appealing, because the customer is part of the decision process. As well as her core collection, Ashiya offers a totally custom service, allowing customers to pick a style and have it made in the fabric and colour of their choice.
Social media has provided a space for independent brands and their customers to intimately connect. Ashiya says a high percentage of her customers contact her before making a purchase; “people feel more connected to my pieces because they know it was made by me,” she says.
By offering a small, edited collection, Ashiya keeps lead times to 10 days. Where this might have once been considered a commercial hurdle, the designer says she hopes it encourages people to make more mindful purchases. “If you know you have to wait 10 days, you’re going think about it a bit more rather than buying something because you want it right now.”
Shoppers have become accustomed to the cycle of instant gratification, which devalues the joy of saving up and investing in fewer, better pieces. An understanding of a piece of clothing’s worth has largely been replaced by a desire for more items at lower costs, which has cultivated a throw-away attitude leading to more waste. But as Ashiya says, “If everyone made more considered purchases, things wouldn’t end up in landfill.”
Longer lead times force shoppers to slow down, but so do the higher prices typically associated with the made-to-order model. With dresses between $259 and $299, Ashiya admits her prices are not as accessible as fast fashion, but by cutting out wholesalers and selling direct to customers, she also keeps her prices reasonably accessible. And, of course, her customers see the value in buying pieces that are made to last.
Returning to the old way of making clothes must also include the old way of buying — purchasing items just a handful of times a year, rather than every week or something new for every occasion. The only true antidote to the damaging effects of the industry is to buy much, much less, and with pieces this special, there’s never been more incentive to save up and invest.
Charlie Hale is a journalist currently based in London, where she writes about a plethora of things women care about — from pasta to politics and everything between. Charlie is also the editor of WILD.