Kari Vallury discusses our Seasonal Dress and Sustainability

The seasonal dress subscription: is she really sustainable?

Kari Vallury, Slowclothes

I got talking with some members of my community recently about whether a subscription dress model is truly ‘sustainable’. Some had (skeptical) questions, and fairly enough too. Perhaps you’ve had them yourself. Questions like, “isn’t this promoting mindless consumption, given you won’t know whether you love the dress before you buy it?”

I’ve been pondering the ethics of the model myself but knowing Em (Little Tienda’s founder), I figured there was good reason for it. As an aside, that’s one of the great things about getting to know truly ethical brands and platforms – you can trust them to be experts in things you aren’t, and to be doing the right thing. That said, so you don’t have to just ‘trust Em’ I thought it’d be fun to delve a little bit more deeply into the reasoning behind the seasonal dress model. 

If you’ve read some of my earlier articles, you’ll know there is ambiguity around, and multiple meanings to the words, ‘sustainability’ and ‘ethics’. While your mind may go primarily to environmental concerns when you hear the word sustainability, sustainable incomes (meaning they are sufficient to live on and consistent over time) for garment workers at all stages of fashion supply chains are vital too. Thus, the complex problems facing the fashion industry (and planet) require complex solutions. There’s no one way to be more sustainable.  

What of the subscription dresses then?

Interestingly, some googling revealed it’s not at all a common purchasing model. And this makes sense I suppose. Most people wouldn’t trust a brand to send them something they loved, and to pay before seeing it. Little Tienda is a little different, however. A cult following, inclusive sizing and genuine ethical production means many of us (me included) trust that whatever Em creates for us will be glorious. The subscription can be cancelled at any time (you can just get one dress, for example), and while you might think of it as a ‘risk’, it has innumerable benefits for the garment workers and sustainability of the business. Here are just four: 

  1. The fabric, and the garments, are made to order, exactly the right amount for that quarter’s subscriptions. This means there are no leftovers, no need to go on sale, and no waste.
  1. Making to order, not having to run photoshoots prior to sale, and less marketing, as well as not having to factor in costs of leftover stock, helps keep prices down. As such, the subscription dresses are around 50% cheaper than the label’s other dresses, making ethical fashion more accessible. Hallelujah!
  1. The model helps ensure there is regular work for the artisans who make the fabric and the garments. Creating continuous work for artisans can be difficult. Many brands, especially high-end ones, will go into an artisan community, make one collection with them as something ‘novel’ and leave. Not Em – she ensures ongoing work for her team throughout and over the year(s), and the subscriptions are one way to ensure this is possible. This is a crucial component of running an ethical business that is very often forgotten.
  1. You may not know this, but Little Tienda also has an annual production limit, and the seasonal subscription dress falls into this limit. Thus, less is produced across the label’s other collections, where there is the risk of leftovers and higher costs involved in shooting and marketing.

I hope this answers some of the burning questions you may have had. It certainly has done for me! Nothing is for everyone, but with this model, ethical fashion can certainly be accessible to more humans.

Also, it’s just really nice to surprise ourselves with a gift every quarter. So there’s that 😊 

Kari Vallury is a researcher, speaker and writer, and the founder of Slow Clothes - an advocate for fashion ethics and sustainability. She's also one of the brightest and fiercest minds we've come across. You can find Kari Vallury on Instagram here.