Will micro-designers disrupt fast-fashion giants?

Discussion
Photos: where Mountains Meet
Apr 06, 2018
Jasmine Glasheen

Most of us have heard about how micro-influencers are revolutionizing the face of marketing, but there is a new breed of artisan that is similarly disrupting the fashion and retail sectors: The micro-designer. The micro-designer is the antithesis of fast-fashion designers who replicate runway trends for immediate consumption by the masses. Instead, the micro-designer sells small-batch goods — meaning that 500 units or less are produced in one run.

The goods produced by micro-designers are either handmade or manufactured locally. The quantity is often limited, so when a designer or retailer sells out of the products, they’re out. The limited production of small-batch products, the story of how the goods are made and the background of the artisans are often more meaningful selling points for consumers than the goods themselves.

Whether micro-designers are growing in visibility and popularity as a result of the maker movement or the technological revolution is debatable. What we do know is that the American retail market is over-stored, so would-be designers and store-owners often need less up-front capital to get rolling. In addition, artisans no longer have to wait for their line to get picked up by a major retailer to start selling their goods.

CB Insights reports, “The dawn of Etsy made it easy for anyone to start an online shop and build a following. Now, decreased production costs make it feasible for small or emerging brands to manufacture small runs of products at reasonable margins and build up online audiences from there.”

While micro-designers in U.S. communities work in various retail verticals and make use of a wide range of styles and production methods, they are alike in offering consumers a more human, local alternative to fast-fashion and the environmental havoc it wreaks.

As the co-owners of the sustainable fashion start-up, Where Mountains Meet, told Vogue, “We love that we’re able to develop a committed, personal relationship with our factory owners, as well as keep a close eye on production quality. Shopping locally and supporting the local industry are the best things you can do to be a part of the environmental and social responsibility equation.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How do you see micro-designers affecting apparel retailers, particularly fast-fashion, in the years ahead? In which vertical — fashion, beauty, jewelry, shoes, etc. — do you think micro-designers are most likely to be successful?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"If I were a big manufacturer, I'd be partnering with some of these micro-designers to build fantastic pop-up opportunities."
"At the end of the day, even for the Maker movement, economics of scale keep a Maker in business."
"I feel like this is a big industry rediscovering something they had consigned to the dustbin and now suddenly realized it’s still thriving."

Join the Discussion!

13 Comments on "Will micro-designers disrupt fast-fashion giants?"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Art Suriano
BrainTrust

Fashion has always been about looking unique and getting noticed because of what you wear. Here is an opportunity to take individuality to a higher level. I can see micro-designers having great success with the fashion-conscious crowd who wish to be different, knowing that what they’re wearing will not be mass produced. That said, technology will continue to change the apparel industry as we are becoming closer to custom-made clothing and eventually less off-the-rack items. Micro-designers will still have a place with their designs. However, as we rely more on a computer manufacturing custom-fitting apparel, I would expect that customers will be able to take more control of the design of what they wear by picking and choosing the fabric, color, patterns, etc. and in essence themselves becoming their own micro-designer. Only time will tell as technology progresses how this will turn out.

Nikki Baird
BrainTrust

Maybe I’m missing something, but this just sounds like Etsy to me. Or try any local craft show or farmer’s market. I mean, I’ve seen the t-shirt customizing services in the mall — the printers to do that at mass scale used to be high five-figure, six-figure expenses and now they’re like $10,000. So I get that the technology costs of “small batch” are making it possible to produce larger batch sizes than a few at a time, which gives the artisans more reach in a way, because they have more inventory to sell.

But the story of the benefits are the same as they’ve always been —I feel like this is a big industry rediscovering something they had consigned to the dustbin and now suddenly realized it’s still thriving.

George Anderson
Staff

The rise of micro-designers may not be new as Nikki suggests, but her link to Etsy demonstrates that individuals and companies in this segment are, in aggregate, part of a large and growing retail opportunity.

Sunny Kumar
BrainTrust

The fast fashion giants are quick to catch onto a trend and commodotize it. As long as they keep agility as a core principle it’s hard to see how micro-designers can really affect them.

Phil Chang
BrainTrust

It’s no secret. I love local brands and experiential retail, so naturally, I want this to be true. I’d like to see micro-designers in all verticals take a run at fast fashion for a whole series of reasons.

Having said that, there’s a lot of work to be done as a micro-designer to ensure that they inspire trust for the consumer. Etsy artists sell limited quantities because that’s what consumers are willing to risk — small purchases of artisan crafts where the expectations of product quality are modest.

If the micro-designer can break through and inspire trust and convey craftsmanship, they’ll be able crack more serious price-ranging categories like jewelry or shoes.

Just a thought … if I were a big manufacturer, I’d be partnering with some of these micro-designers to build fantastic pop-up opportunities.

Jasmine Glasheen
BrainTrust

I couldn’t agree more, Phil. For Gen Z customers it’s less about conforming to trends or buying the same brand as their peers, and more about discovery and uniqueness. Growing consumer interest in micro-designers bodes well for start-ups and independents!

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

We all see the power of micro-influencers on retail and fashion in general, however of equal importance is the emergence of the micro-designers. In our digital-first, agile, social media-driven fashion market, micro-designers are closer to the changing market landscape, trends, shifts and can respond far more aggressively as compared to traditional retailers.

Fast fashion has the mechanisms, agile supply chain and the infrastructure necessary to leverage the micro-designer influencer’s reach and social media presence. The micro designer approach could work extremely well with retail pop-up formats, special events and exclusive VIP offerings. Instagram is also a digital commerce playground where these micro-designers will have a more level playing field with the micro-influencers.

It will be very interesting to see how everything plays out in the coming months.

Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

Isn’t every new designer a micro-designer? Having started two apparel companies myself, I had to move from contract seamstresses/tailors to building out my own factory to control fit and quality. A 500 piece cutting ticket is a big deal, even to a large retailer doing their own private label brand. I applaud the apparel Maker renaissance, thriving in many cities including my own Portland, Oregon. At the end of the day, even for the Maker movement, economics of scale keep a Maker in business. PR does not pay for piece goods and seamstresses/tailors, let alone all the other costs involved in building cool and great products.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

Just like microbreweries, I see this trend growing quickly. It’s trendy and cool to support the “little guys” (and gals) in every industry, so I see this growing successfully as the “big guys” buy them up.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust
I love the idea of micro-designers; I buy from them whenever I can. The difference between a micro-designer and fast fashion is that I am getting a quality, handmade, often bespoke piece. Micro-designers listen to their customers. The biggest complaint we hear from female shoppers in consumer focus groups is that they can’t find what they want in traditional stores because the garments are too young, too old or poorly sized. If she wears anything over a size 4 fashion designers don’t want to dress her. Those of us who wear — gasp — a double-digit size are out of luck: In the world of fashion I am a house. It doesn’t matter where I am, chances are I will walk out empty-handed. You can read about my disastrous search for a mother of the groom dress here. So I embrace micro-designers and I think it makes sense for them to partner with traditional retailers. My partner and I have worked in the creative industries since we started our company. Partnerships between indie designers and… Read more »
Jasmine Glasheen
BrainTrust

I’d like to see more big box retailers making an effort to discover and partner with micro-designers/artisans in communities in which they have a strong brand presence.

It happens, but not at the frequency one would expect considering how many big boxes are struggling to stay relevant.

Especially when so many consumers today are hyper-focused on supporting their local communities and shopping small.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Pottery Barn partnered with local artisans this past December, and last night’s episode of Superstore was about Local Vendors Day in the store.

Cate Trotter
BrainTrust

Micro-designers are well placed to capitalize on a number of trends such as shopping more locally and exclusivity — people like to have something that not everyone else has. There’s also a chance for customers to get in early with a designer who may go onto bigger things. I think fast fashion serves a different purpose for a lot of people, which is to literally get on new trends quickly. This audience may over their lifetime move away from fast fashion, but not towards the traditional designer brands. Micro-designers may help fill that gap. There could also be potential for fast fashion brands to do some sort of collaboration with micro-designers.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"If I were a big manufacturer, I'd be partnering with some of these micro-designers to build fantastic pop-up opportunities."
"At the end of the day, even for the Maker movement, economics of scale keep a Maker in business."
"I feel like this is a big industry rediscovering something they had consigned to the dustbin and now suddenly realized it’s still thriving."

Take Our Instant Poll

How likely is the micro-designer trend to go mainstream with consumers?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...