Every new year, I try to push boundaries and set new parameters for Gypsied, not just in the designs we put out, but especially in our operations. Operations are the lifeblood of any small business and the last couple of years have been about fine-tuning ours to match the conscious, ethical and fair trade values with which we approach our work. What does this mean?
- Conscious - Investigating and understanding the why: why Gypsied exists and what is the intention behind our products?
- Ethical - Do the pros of what we create outweigh the cons? What is the short-term and long-term impact of our output on people and the environment? Which parts of our supply chain need to be more visible so that we can measure better?
- Fair trade - Treatment and duty of care to our artisans, partners and suppliers.
While there are several frameworks that serve as guides, they are not the be all and end all for any business. I/We are accountable to the people involved with Gypsied, especially artisans, tailors and our creative team of freelancers—all of these while also keeping the business sustainable.
Producing mindfully comes with its challenges. It is not all magic; present and precedent data, and a healthy amount of gut feel is central to how we forecast production quantities each year. This also means a ceiling to our revenue, with limited resources directly affecting design and production of future collections.
The benefits of careful forecast however, have been tremendous—we see a decrease in the percentage of unsold inventory year on year, despite slowly growing our product range and quantities. Your input via our yearly surveys before the beginning of any production cycle has been so valuable.
Unsold inventory is a real problem in the larger context of the fashion industry. I love seeing beautiful and meaningful pieces created, but as Vogue Business aptly puts it, overproduction remains one of fashion’s costliest and most environmentally damaging open secrets. Let's never forget when Burberry burned $37 million worth of excess products in 2017.
We are of course nowhere near a mega brand like Burberry, but I believe that taking responsibility for what Gypsied puts out each year is in my hands, and as a small business, Gypsied's impact is direct no matter how small.
As tough as 2020 was, there were also blessings in store. A growing movement in the pre-order model for slow fashion brands in Singapore started to gain momentum. As the world inevitably came to a halt during the pandemic, other long standing issues in the industry swiftly came to light: underpaid garment workers, unsafe and unsatisfactory work conditions, unlawful cancellations and non-payment by major fashion brands for orders already placed, resulting in the loss of millions of jobs in South and Southeast Asia.
You, the consumer, began to seek more accountability from the brands you buy from. We wanted to do pre-orders for a long time now. Working with heritage textiles that take months to be crafted, this is a model that makes perfect sense.
Pre-orders are also beneficial on several fronts. It provides consistent and meaningful work for artisans and tailors, while also keeping our small business sustainable. The direct impact of your thoughtful and patient purchase not only gives what you buy exclusivity, but also deep meaning.
Last December, we successfully opened pre-orders for batik jackets. Even as the quantities were small, we were proud to be able to facilitate this system of trust between makers, brands and you.
In an ideal world, Gypsied will produce based on the capabilities of our artisans, tailors and your demand. I believe it is not too late to dream of this utopia, so thank you for sowing the seeds together with us and other slow fashion brands. True sustainability begins with our everyday choices.
Being a brand that sits on the intersection of heritage, culture and sustainable fashion is a unique position—and a privilege. One that I don't take lightly. As Gypsied approaches its 8th year, small wins like the above remain the raisons d'être to carry on our work. I won't lie, the pressure to keep this small business running is massive. My escape, so to speak, has been the stories I discover in the textiles—important stories of hope as told by our artisans (who are true guardians of heritage), and motifs embedded with relatable life philosophies that we are so honoured to share with you. In them, I have found a way to come back to myself and to carve an identity as a Southeast Asian in a globalised world.
This year we move forward with some plans that we had put on hold, including the release of a capsule collection in the fourth quarter, as well as an intimate look at the making of batik with some of the artisans we work with.
The latter is an ongoing project. While we wish to be transparent and show you #whomadeyourclothes, we are also mindful of how exploitative and reductionist photography can be. The artisans are afterall unique individuals with their own stories to tell.
While Gypsied may not be rich in capital, we are contented in other parts of life that truly matter—relationships, camaraderie and a sense of mission. I count these blessings everyday.
Thank you for your support in 2020. Wishing all of us better days, and the grit to go through them. Here's to another chapter.
Aqilah Zailan (she/her)