Duncan Gilmour, managing director of Screenworks, considers the shift towards bespoke clothing, and explains how this could benefit your business
When I entered the industry, almost 20 years ago, nobody talked about bespoke or customised clothing. However, over the past decade the UK manufacturing sector has seen rapid development of the bespoke clothing market and niche suppliers are now seeing notable growth. Today, ‘bespoke’ is the word on everyone’s lips. There are several reasons for the expansion of this side of the industry, including: a greater focus on quality and accuracy by consumers; globalisation; corporate social responsibility (CSR); and differentiation. Although stock and customised clothing production still account for the vast majority of business in our sector, I believe we may be looking at a significant shift towards the bespoke style of manufacturing.
The definition of bespoke
Before I set out to examine the reasons behind this growth and which elements businesses need to focus on to deliver truly bespoke products, I think it’s important to consider what bespoke really means. This is important because there can often be confusion, especially around the use of the term ‘bespoke’ in marketing and labelling. There are three key methods of production to consider: stock, customised and bespoke.
Stock Items are purchased from either wholesalers or direct from the manufacturer. Once purchased, the clothing or product can be either re-sold unbranded, or a design or corporate identity can be added in the form of a print or embroidery embellishment.
Customised This caters for those who are looking for something more closely aligned to their branding or brand values than general decorated stock clothing. Items can be purchased from manufacturers and then numerous techniques can be employed, such as adding branded zippers, neck tape, labels or studs, to alter the stock product to look more in keeping with brand identity or style. This method is often confused with bespoke. However, it’s important to bear in mind that you are still buying stock items and then altering them to the customer’s style, not creating a product from scratch, where the client has a choice over all specifications.
Bespoke This enables a client to choose everything, from the fabric to the colour, the cut, along with decoration and embellishments. This allows them to completely align all elements of their product with their brand. The item, whether it’s a bag, T-shirt or hat, is produced especially for one customer.
A changing world
The concepts of bespoke and customised clothing have developed rapidly and I mainly attribute this growth to globalisation. The shrinking of the business world has made bespoke clothing both more accessible and more affordable to the mass market. Whilst the minimum order quantities (MOQs) will generally rise between stock, customised and bespoke, we have seen a general reduction in MOQs, even for bespoke, over the last few years. This has also played an important part in the move towards this form of production.
Corporate social responsibility
CSR demands from clients are becoming a key driver with brands wanting to ensure they know exactly how their products have been manufactured. We are seeing increasing requests from clients to leverage control over a larger part of the process; for many, knowing how an item is manufactured has become as important as the item itself. Responsible clients are now placing increasing importance upon really knowing the journey of their garments’ manufacture. For example, some customers are now demanding to visit facilities during production or enquiring deeply into supply chains and manufacturing methods.
The average person in the UK is subjected to 5,000 – 10,000 adverts every day. Intrusive advertising such as pop-ups can be met with a negative reaction. However, promotional clothing offers a passive approach that has both impact and longevity. As differentiation is becoming a critical factor in today’s saturated markets and consumer-driven world, there’s greater emphasis upon customisation, personalisation and wearability. Bespoke will never be the solution for all businesses, but a growing number of clients believe that it’s essential to invest time and money into creating products that not only deliver consistently and with precision, but which also enable their brand to differentiate itself and stand out from the crowd.
Quality and accuracy of production have always been two of the greatest challenges for customers, particularly when it comes to clothing. Sizes and quality of production can vary greatly between stock brands, and even within batches – and with more detailing and complicated prints these issues can often be exacerbated. Bespoke tackles this issue head on and ensures that measurements are consistent with branding.
The benefits of bespoke
As discussed above, bespoke allows the client to differentiate their brand to a whole new level. They can convey every element of their style and character with design, colour, decoration, quality and precision. They can also use this method to establish their ethos and company voice. End-user customers are questioning brands more than ever and are placing increasing importance upon the origins and methods used to produce what they are buying.
Bespoke production means that our clients can now communicate their standpoint on ethics and sustainability and back it up with real evidence (visiting the production plant, knowing where their materials came from, choosing organic, sustainability and ethical certification etc). As a result, there is increased pressure on manufacturers and producers to make significant improvements. Those offering, or considering offering, bespoke need to ensure their supply chain is fully audited. With this in mind, the market for bespoke and customised garments will continue to grow and this will benefit all involved — from the farmers growing the cotton, right through to the end user who is enjoying the clothing and promoting the brand.
When offering bespoke there are many elements that need to be integrated or fully consolidated into your business to ensure you can deliver. From understanding products, to the manufacturing process and eventual decoration, these are truly specialist skills, which require expert knowledge. Ensure that you and your team understand the differences between stock, customised and bespoke and carefully assess whether your business is ready to take on the task of dedicating the time and passion to developing this offering. The bespoke process involves far more choice, along with additional decisions that the customer will need to be guided on, from the selection of fabrics, to signing off lab dips on fabric dye colour matching. For optimum results, your team needs to have a thorough knowledge of an order to liaise with and inform clients and producers.
Communication is key
When your team has the right product, manufacturing and decoration knowledge they need to be able to explain to customers how bespoke products are made. It’s important to outline from the beginning that this process is far more hands-on in its approach. As such, the client needs to know they’re working on a long lead- time. This will generally range from four to 16 weeks, depending on the size and complexity of the project. A significant portion of this time should be dedicated to design. Be prepared to work closely (hand-in-hand) with the client, from the start to the end of the process.
Creativity and confidence
Can your business deliver on creative offerings and strong design? A confident and experienced design team will lead the way for innovation and help you to make your mark in this developing sector. So hire the right people, cultivate a culture of creativity and dedicate yourselves to this developing and exciting process!