Our owner, and Creative Director, Shevonne, gives an update on our transition to made-to-order fashion.
A few months ago we made the announcement about our final transition to a complete made-to-order model for Stella Phoenix.
I didn’t lie then, and I won’t lie now, I was N E R V O U S.
I mean, I was E X C I T E D. But, the golf ball in my throat was real. How would this go? How would our customers respond to it? In a world where everyone wants fashion NOW NOW NOW, could we achieve our dream of mindful, thoughtful, made-with-love fashion?
It’s not like this transition came as a complete shock to our customers. In 2020, we moved to the prelude of made-to-order which was a pre-order model. How that worked was we launched, and customers had a week to get their orders in, then we made them and shipped before moving on to the next drop. Again, I won’t lie in that our first go at this model was an absolute debacle. COVID shut down our manufacturing and interrupted supply deliveries, the lady managing our manufacturing had to leave just as we started because her daughter tragically, unexpectedly, and gut-wrenchingly, passed away. A member of her team stepped up to carry the load, but the tragedy put all of their production behind schedule, including ours. It was something none of us could prepare for, and as Mothers ourselves, our hearts just bled for her.
Then on top of this, COVID shipping was an absolute nightmare. Shipping routes were suspended without notice, orders sat at the airport for weeks. It felt like juggling balls of fire that were burning our fingers.
But to my great surprise, our customers were fantastic about it. We faced the wind, we were vulnerable, and we got through it – they L O V E D their pieces, and then they came back again to order next time. We evolved our model and cut our production time down to 3 weeks. The next time was smoother.
But as great as the pre-order model was, it had limitations. Firstly, we had to make sure everyone was ready to order during the pre-order window to get the orders made at once. And, if you ordered in the beginning of the pre-order window, you had to wait for everyone else to get their orders in before we started sewing. Customers missed out. I realised that in order to achieve the made-to-order dream, we would need to transition away from our traditional manufacturing relationships and hire our own team of sewers.
People told me I would never find the right people. That highly skilled sewers are hard to find – especially in Australia where there is a skills shortage due to everyone sending their manufacturing offshore. But again, I faced the wind, and I went for it. In the middle of a pandemic. Where everything was crazy, and nothing made sense, and nothing went to plan, even when you planned it with a buffer.
I not only found sewers, but I found highly skilled, amazing, beautifully talented sewers. Mum’s and Grandma’s who had lost their jobs due to COVID. Beautiful women who were not only passionate about quality fashion, but also loved the made-to-order concept. Together, we worked out our made-to-order process and we got to work.
How the made-to-order model works is customers order, we send the orders to our sewers, they sew the pieces with love, and we ship. It takes up to 10 business days for us to turn an order around – it sometimes takes less time than this, depending on what’s ordered and how many orders we are managing. Orders are made in the order they are ordered. That’s a lot of ordering in one sentence, but you get it.
I’m pleased to report that transitioning to a made-to-order model has been the single best decision we’ve ever made – commercially, environmentally, humanly. It feels like our made with love plane has finally come into land.
Our customers have embraced it, and love it [thank you]. They look at their daughters wearing their pieces, and think about their future. They think about the women who are embroiled in modern-day slavery [a truly complex topic]. They watch their little girls full of joy in their Princess outfits, making memories, writing family stories, and feeling special and beautiful – and they know that no one suffered for this moment. This moment was designed, sewn, created, with love. This really is priceless.
I visit our sewers weekly. We laugh, and have fun. I cuddle their pets, and chat with their kids, and see photos and hear stories about their grandkids, and we have become friends. They have become a crucial part of Stella Phoenix. It feels almost like they’ve replaced a missing limb. We’ve had some minor process adjustments, but mainly it has all gone like clockwork!
The BEST part is now we have our own team of sewers, we have been able to dabble in custom pieces for ready-made prices – and customers have loved it. We’ve also been able to make any top/bottom combination that takes the customers fancy, instead of them being locked into set-pieces as advertised on the website. This has meant that our customers are able to come on the design journey with us and truly tailor their special pieces to their little girls style, and tastes!
Sitting down with a coffee to reflect on this journey has been profound. There have been moments of shock and sadness, moments of feeling like we’re trying to solve a Rubix cube, moments of despair. But mostly, there has been moments of pure joy. Of excitement. Of feeling like we are changing the world for the better, one flutter at a time. Seeing little girls loving their pieces, refusing to take them off, sleeping in them, dancing, leaping, creating new identities for themselves in their imaginary worlds, making magic moments in the middle of two of the darkest years we’ve seen in the history of the world – and knowing all of that was made with love – is amazing.
No more ready-made fashion for us. We are standing in the future and it is GLORIOUS.