How Small and Sustainable Businesses are Using ‘Stock Drops’ to Change Consumer Habits

Image: By Megan Crosby

With social media now doubling up as a consumer platform, independent and sustainable designers are favouring small ‘stock drops’ of made to order fashion. Ruth MacGilp investigates the impact of  these limited edition sustainable collections and what this means for consumers.

Made-to-order business models from independent brands have been rising rapidly in the sustainable fashion sector. These systems are heralded as a solution to overstock and waste, as well as creating a deeper connection to customers and reducing returns. We’ve even seen manufacturers cut out the middle-man with made-to-order clothing direct from the factory floor. But what happens when there is so much demand for these products that designers are forced to build short-lived hype for their very limited edition collections? Do these ‘stock drops’ encourage super-fast shopping habits, or are they just a new form of conscious consumption?

A phenomenon is brewing on Instagram where small, sustainable brands are increasingly operating their online shops using a ‘drop’ system. Building up to the drop by teasing ahead of time and encouraging users to switch on countdown notifications, orders are welcomed for a short period of time (such as 24 hours) or until order slots are sold out. Then, the brand closes for several weeks to produce this influx of orders. In this way, social media has become a selling tool in a much more direct way, driving consumption even more prolifically with the prominent positioning of Instagram’s new shopping features.

Sustainable fashion labels like By Megan Crosby, Olivia Rose The Label and Grey Milk have used Instagram to build market value, with eager brand fans ensuring the drop model flourishes. Every online shop opening slot is hotly awaited, allowing the solo designers to then dedicate themselves to in-house manufacturing while new orders are put on hold. Meanwhile, the desire amongst wannabe wearers grows even stronger.

This system is nothing new to the fashion industry – streetwear brands like Stüssy and Supreme pioneered ‘the drop’ decades ago. While the aforementioned indie brands practice oscillating retail schedules to manage workload, the streetwear universe is infamous for using this strategy to create artificial scarcity and planned obsolescence. In essence, they are not selling product – they’re selling hype. That said, ethical businesses must not only manage responsible production, but responsible consumption too. Can we really be conscious consumers when our routines revolve around shopping?

Image: By Megan Crosby

Fashion psychologist and author Dr Dawnn Karen agrees that there are potential dangers in this drop system. “It could trigger impulse shopping, which is shopping without intention, or not shopping mindfully. I encourage mindfulness prior to making a purchase, but with the ‘drop’ system, how much mindfulness can really be created if there is only less than 24 hours to make a purchase?” she asks. “This may trigger some anxiety, so a consumer may feel anxious that if they do not buy this now, it will not be there. I would be mindful of the anxiety that it may cause buying from several stores that engage in stock drops, and the potential of buyers’ remorse too.”

According to Dennis Relojo-Howell, clinical psychology researcher and founder of Psychreg, some more warning signs of compulsive shopping include: “Being preoccupied with thoughts of purchases; buying items you don’t need; hoping you’ll feel happier when you return from your shopping trip; experiencing something like a high during the purchase; and feeling guilty afterwards.”

There are also concerns that the speed of sales and bulk batch production can negatively impact on the designer’s wellbeing, contributing to the well-documented fashion burnout cycle. “The workload is really intense. I’ve worked 12 hour days for the past 2 weeks,” says Scottish designer Vivienne Lynch, who recently trialled the drop model for her lingerie brand Miss Vivienne.

Vivienne also noticed an increase in product volumes during these high-intensity sales periods. “When the shop reopened, a lot of the orders were for three or four piece sets, so there were bigger order values with more units than usual. That could be that people want to throw in more products because they don’t know when the shop might reopen.” However, the designer is certain that even with higher quantities, her customers are still consuming with sustainability in mind. “It would still be better to buy four products from me than from ASOS! Everything I do as a sustainable brand, like making sure there is minimal waste, no matter how many orders come in that will always stay.”

One key positive from Vivienne’s experiment with this new business model is that with a more predictable schedule, she is better placed to plan ahead financially. Because of this, she has been able to hire assistants to help manage workload and as a result, teach niche lingerie production skills to local students and keep everything in-house rather than outsourcing to factories. “With this system, I can better manage waste too. I can make more accurate fabric orders with no leftovers,” she comments. While the traditional streetwear drop model releases new collections each time, Vivienne continues to sell past-season styles on her website until the fabric is fully used up. “I just can’t bring myself to throw anything away!”

Ultimately, the popularity of this time-bound ecommerce model is a positive sign that small businesses can find creative ways to flourish in an increasingly difficult retail landscape. If customers are buying what they truly love – maybe even saving up for a specific item for several weeks – then perhaps this spin on the made-to-order model could teach patience for a slower fashion system overall. Dr. Dawnn Karen reflects further that it’s really the intention behind your purchases that matters. “Stock drops are not harmful if the intent is to be eco-conscious,” she says.

When it comes to sustainable fashion in the upcoming new decade, the sustainability of the product itself is no longer enough. Brands must consider the sustainability of their entire business model and product lifecycle, and that includes creating a physically sustainable workflow too. For designers like Vivienne, this new system has given her time to reflect, and an unexpected revelation that when it comes to running her business, rest really is revolutionary.