Opinions

Are We Witnessing The Comeback of ‘Made-to-Measure’ Shoes?

13th May 2020

WORDS BY NATALIE YIASSOUMI

The concept is becoming more widely available to consumers, as a more sustainable – and exclusive – alternative to buying seasonal shoes. 

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IMAGE COURTESY OF IVA MINKOVA.

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MADE FOR YOU – IS THAT THE ULTIMATE LUXURY?IMAGE COURTESY OF BIONDA CASTANA.

Made-to-measure fashion is no news: Our parents’ and grandparents’ generations probably still remember ordering their one pair of formal shoes for the year – think classic brogues, ballet flats or slingback pumps – from the local cobbler. 

Today the service has always been available in luxury circles, if you were a high net worth couture client ordering hundreds of thousands worth of clothing and shoes made exclusively for you, or a bride looking for a special, customised pair of high heels for your wedding. 

Most of the big footwear names in the industry, from Cesare Paciotti to Jimmy Choo and Christian Louboutin, have always offered those type of services for clients’ special occasions.

But now it looks like the tradition of made-to-measure is ready to come back into our lives – and shoe wardrobes – in a bigger, more democratic way. It will no longer be reserved for weddings or the 1 percent of wealthy shoppers. 

The trend has been brewing for the past few years in the fashion world, starting with clothing: There’s modern tailoring brands like Casely Hayford offering made-to-order suits at more accessible price points; designer Misha Nonoo, made famous for her friendship with Meghan Markle, whose line of wardrobe classics is all made-to-order in her Hong Kong factory; Olivia Rose whose romantic tops are all hand sewn to fit customers’ individual measurements; and a host of startups using 3D body scan technology to take the customisation concept to a whole new level. 

In the footwear world, the trend was a bit slower to take off given the higher complexities involved to make a shoe but now designers, mostly up-and-coming, are taking the leap. 

What this means for you is that you can now order shoes from this growing group of made-to-measure brands, work with the designer to customise them and receive the finished pair approximately a month later, knowing that it was produced exclusively for you at small artisanal factories – or in some cases cut and sewn by the designer themselves. 

Given that these brands sell direct-to-consumer on their websites, keeping costs at a minimum, it also means you don’t need to pay extra for the service either – prices remain in line with other, more widely distributed luxury brands. 

Having witnessed industry overconsumption from the inside, I felt a responsibility to try to do things differently. – Tabitha Ringwood. 

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TABITHA RINGWOOD ‘SQUEEZY PIN’ SANDALS. COURTESY IMAGE

Tabitha Ringwood, whose namesake brand was among the first to champion the ‘made-to-order’ concept, is one such designer. She designs, pattern cuts and sews her futuristic shoes at her London atelier, to ensure she minimises her environmental impact and puts a little bit of her heart and soul in every shoe produced. 

“Having witnessed industry overconsumption from the inside, I felt a responsibility to try to do things differently,” said Ringwood. “This process allows our customers to play their own role in designing shoes. For example, we are currently fulfilling an order where the customers requested a slightly different heel shape to the original design.”

So is the return of the made-to-measure concept a response to our need for exclusivity and wearing items no one else has? 

Given how saturated some trends become online – think square-toe mules, neutral-hued Pangaia tracksuits or chunky sneakers – this could be part of the reason. 

But exclusivity can take many different shapes and forms. It can be a made-to-order piece created just for you, but it can also be that last Bottega sandal you managed to hunt down, a Glossier lip balm that isn’t available outside the U.S. or Amina Muaddi’s limited-run animal-print heels, stocked exclusively on Mytheresa. 

So apart from exclusivity, this leaning towards made-to-measure might also reflect our willingness to finally slow down a bit, wait longer for an order to arrive and invest in sustainable practices as much as we do in beautiful design objects. 

“There is huge value to be gained from investing in the made-to-order process. A true sense of longing ensues whilst waiting for something to be made. We [should] focus on the notion of emotional sustainability, which means continuously exploring the relationships we form with objects, to create long-lasting attachments,” added Ringwood

Iva Minkova, whose dreamy, pearl-embellished shoes are also produced on a made-to-order basis, also thinks there’s a shift happening towards more ‘forever’ and less seasonal purchases making the made-to-measure concept more relevant. 

“I wanted to make shoes that mean something, that are desired and can be preserved like jewels, like mementos,” she explained. “I love a next day delivery as much as the next person. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all find those special objects in our life that are worth the wait, that are intended for us only?”

The answer is a resounding yes from a big group of luxury consumers, who are investing more and more into these labels. 

Since we relaunched in November 2018, the sales have been incredible. People don’t mind waiting a 4 to 5 week period for something they really love from a trusted brand. It’s a considered purchase and not fast fashion,” said Natalie Barbieri, co-founder of the British shoe label Bionda Castana. 

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ORGINALITY AND CRAFTMANSHIP BY TABITHA RINGWOOD. COURTESY IMAGE.

I love a next day delivery as much as the next person. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all find those special objects in our life that are worth the wait, that are intended for us only? – Iva Minkova.

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IVA MINKOVA’S SIGNATURE STYLES. COURTESY IMAGES.

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CUSTOM ORDERS OF BIONDA CASTANA. COURTESY IMAGE.

Bionda Castana returned after a brief hiatus, as a direct-to-consumer, made-to-measure concept to avoid the waste of the traditional fashion cycle. 

“Fashion brands over produce and it’s clear, that on most occasions, the demand just is not there. So why over-produce in the first place in the hope of gaining sales? We only really were able to fully commit to becoming kinder to the environment once the brand became purely a ‘made-to-order’ brand, utilising archived and surplus materials to produce the final product,” added Barbieri. 

The question that remains is whether the concept can grow beyond the niche, independent names and become embraced by the mega brands too? Can you imagine a world where you walk into a Prada store, have your measurements taken, request adjustments and receive your order 6 weeks later? 

As the world continues to take stock under lockdown, anything could be possible. Luxury brands are already letting customers pre-order collections straight from the runway – a luxury previously reserved for industry insiders – so a full made-to-measure service might just be the next step into the future.