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I like clothes.
If you know me even a little or have seen this blog before, then this should come as no surprise to you.
I genuinely can’t get enough. My heart actually flutters when I see an item of clothing I like at an irresistible price, and I’ve never told anyone this before, so goodness knows why I’m committing it to writing, but sometimes I even get a teeny tiny twinge in my groin when I see an outfit that I love.
I really like clothes.
I also like a bargain. So I love ‘fast fashion’.
Fast fashion is what we call the business model of most high-street and online fashion retailers – clothes are made cheap and quickly and are sold cheap and quickly. And generally, these clothes aren’t worn for very long, and tend to get thrown out pretty quickly too.
I’m an absolute sucker for this. Few things bring me more pleasure than seeing something nice at an absolute steal of a price. I realised the other day that I have literally never spent more than £50 on an item of clothing. Ever. (We can probably make that £40 if we’re not including suits.)
But the sad news is that fast fashion is just not sustainable.
I don’t just mean that as a trendy buzzword – I mean, it literally cannot be sustained. Something has got to give.
We (I) can’t all keep buying as many clothes as we do, as cheaply as we do, disregarding the environment and the underpaid people who produce them. It’s just not going to last.
So I’ve been thinking about how I can shop a little more thoughtfully. I’ve been buying more second hand stuff. I’ve also resolved to spend less time browsing high street and online stores, unless there’s actually something specific I need.
And then, by some serendipitous turn of events, Doc Cotton approached me to try out their service.
Doc Cotton is on a mission to make fashion personal. They handmake custom clothes to order – t-shirts, dresses, shirts, trousers, skirts. This is great for two reasons:
What you get is completely unique to you.
Not only do Doc Cotton make your item individually, even the patterned material is printed to your specifications. So you can choose a pattern you like from the many they have on their website, or you can upload a pattern of your own. But you can also choose how big or small you want it to be printed, so it genuinely is a garment that is personal to you, and exactly what you want.
It’s better for the world.
While it might sound like something your annoying cousin who wears a hemp poncho and sandals all year round would say, this is actually true. As Doc Cotton only make clothes to order, there’s isn’t loads of unsold stock that gets sold for pennies and ultimately ends up in landfills, or is burnt by the manufactures.
Also, as it’s something you’ve designed for yourself, you’re more likely to wear and enjoy it for longer than you would, say, that Primark top that you only bought because it was £4 and only got worn twice. And, as all items are produced in their Peckham studio, you can be sure that the clothes are made by people who are paid fair wages. Similarly, the patterns for the clothes are mostly from London-based designers, who upload their prints to the website, so the whole process supports local talent.
So far, so good.
I thought it was worth looking into, so I popped down to see their shop and studio in Peckham Levels, and to have a chat with the founder, James.
What made you want to start Doc Cotton?
I just felt that the current model of fast fashion is broken – in an environmental sense, but also from a business point of view too. People are buying so many clothes, just because they’re cheap, but the quality isn’t great so they don’t last very long, or they just get bored of them because they’ve bought something new. Either way, the clothes usually end up in a landfill. I really wanted to do something different.
Also, I always found it frustrating when I’d think of an outfit I’d want, and I’d imagine it in my head just how I’d like it. But then I’d have to go to the shops and see what they’ve got, and try and find the closest thing to what I wanted.
It made me think, ‘why can’t we just get the item that we want from the beginning?‘ That way, it’s exactly what you’re after, and it’s something special to you – it means something.
I wanted to put control in the customer’s hands, not the other way round.
What’s been hard about the journey?
We’ve been going for about seven months now and there’s definitely been some ups and downs. I guess what’s been difficult is changing people’s minds about the fashion process. People have really gotten used to things the way they are, so it can be difficult to persuade them to change the way the shop.
Especially with the huge boom in online fast fashion, people will order ten items, send eight of them back, and then whatever they do keep, they’ll probably only wear once or twice. Since doing this, I can literally see exactly how long a garment takes to make, so I think it’s mad that we’re just wearing things twice and throwing them away.
I think the public perception is changing slowly, but it’s definitely not an overnight thing.
What do you love the most about what you do?
I just love seeing customer’s designs come to life – seeing their vision made into an actual product, as cheesy as it sounds. All the orders are done online, but we’ve got the shop space so people can come in and see some of the styles, try on sizes, feel the fabric and really know what they’re getting. It’s great to chat to people and see what catches their eye, see what they like, what they don’t like.
Sometimes we get an order order come through and I’m thinking ‘I’m not sure that print will really work with those buttons’, but more often than not, it looks great in the end, so the customers obviously know what they’re doing, which is good to know!
Do you think the industry is starting to change?
If you look at the headlines, a lot of the high street shops are really struggling at the moment. Not to disrespect any other companies, but I feel it’s becoming a slightly antiquated business model – if you’re selling things so cheap and at such small margins, you really need to sell it by the bucketload, which I think is why a lot of people are struggling at the moment.
But I think things are changing, even in the public perception around sustainability. People come into the shop and they’re glad that it’s 100% cotton so they know it will last and keep it’s shape, they’re glad that it’s made onsite. There’s lots of documentaries about the environmental effects of fashion these days, so it’s a bit more at the forefront of people’s minds. It’s not as well swept under the rug like it used to be. Fashion is the second biggest polluter, so we can’t really ignore it anymore.
Here we’ve got control of the whole production process so we can see a garment from start to finish. Companies that have their stuff made abroad can’t say that. We’re just a small team and I see the workers everyday, they’re paid well above London living wage, and they all seem pretty happy at work! But if they’ve got any problems, we can sort it because we’re right here. I think that works better than some of what we’ve got at the moment.
Where do you see Doc Cotton going in future?
I guess the dream is just to continue to build it up – to be able to have any fit, any print, anything that you want, of course, with your own special touches that make it you. Obviously the bigger we get, the more we’ll be able to offer so it’s beneficial for the customers to get more choice.
We really want to be a one-stop shop for people, so you can come in and say ‘I want to get this, I want to get that’ and you can be assured that it’s high quality, it’s environmentally friendly and that you can have whatever you want.
What make Doc Cotton unique?
It’s great to see loads of companies with a focus on sustainability at the moment and, like I said, I think the industry is starting to change.
I’d say they are some companies that do bits and pieces that are similar to us but, I haven’t really come across anyone who offers what we do. The all-over print, we monitor the fabric, we monitor the production.
There’s hundreds of companies who do printed t-shirts. They get the 20p t-shirt from china and they’ll put a print on the front but, in terms of what we’re doing, I haven’t seen anyone who does that. At least not yet!
So, what did I think?
I really love the heart behind Doc Cotton. Hard as it is, I do think we need to start to change the way we consume fashion – at least, those of us who can afford to – so it’s really encouraging to know that there are people out there, offering viable alternatives.
The process was surprisingly easy.
- You literally just pick the garment you want (t-shirt, trousers, skirt, whatever)
- Pick a pattern you like and decide how big or small you want it printed (subtle, small prints or big bold patterns)
- Choose the little touches you want, like thread colours and buttons
- Then you pay (this is a very important step in the process).
And, just like that, your personal item is on its way into production – they aim to have it at your door within five days. They even leave a little note in the packaging saying who made your item. My shirt was made by someone called Jo and, let me tell you, she nailed it. My compliments to the chef.
Little touches like this are more than just cute – it’s helpful to remind ourselves that all our clothes are made by people. It’s good to know that Jo is someone who was paid a reasonable wage to make my shirt, which is not something I can say about 99% of my clothes.
My shirt feels like good quality – I’m assured it will keep it’s shape and the colours will hold, so I’ll have to see how that goes. I went for print 175. by Alice Alum – a light and quirky paisley pattern as we come into spring.
When summer arrives however, I think Doc Cotton can be your port of call for co-ord sets, as you can have them made just how you like them, and you know that nobody from Love Island will have the exact same thing.
It’s not cheap stuff, there’s no two-ways around that. But as I’m trying to buy better quality, less often, that’s not as much of a barrier as it used to be. I’m slowly starting to come around to the idea that you really do get what you pay for – whether that’s a quality garment or a quick, essentially disposable, fashion fix.
Plus it’s definitely cheaper than a lot of the hypebeast-esque stuff that some of my friends buy, so I guess it’s really about what you value.
James says he wants to build Doc Cotton up and to be able to offer more, so I’m really interested to see where they go. I’m also quite intrigued to see how they’ll be able to scale up while still focusing on sustainability – something that is admittedly harder for big companies to do.
Guess we’ll just have to wait and see what’s next.
All in all, I’m a big fan of this brand and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out, now that I’ve Cottoned on to the Doc.