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Mending the fashion system one stitch at a time: in conversation with Stitch by Stitch

Anna Roos van Wijngaarden
April 10, 2024

Stitch by Stitch was among the first local partners to join Manufy, bringing their tailor manufacturer approach and profound commitment to social and ecological responsibility. Founded on Nici von Alvensleben’s experiences in social entrepreneurship and Claudia Frick’s fashion design expertise, they turned their passion for quality design into a compelling business model.

Now with 13 talented tailors, skilled refugee seamstresses create exquisite garments in a fully-owned production hub in Frankfurt, Stitch by Stitch produces small series and prototypes for fashion labels, utilizing organic-certified and recycled materials, proudly bearing the "Made in Germany" hallmark. Recognized for its impactful contributions, Stitch by Stitch has earned prestigious accolades, including the Frankfurt Founder's Award [winner] and the German Integration Award [finalist]. With business flourishing, Nici shares insights on championing sustainability in action.

Team Stitch by Stitch | Credit: Stitch by Stitch

How did the idea behind Stitch by Stitch emerge and evolve into a thriving business?

It started in 2015, with a call from a foundation for ideas on how to integrate refugees into employment, mentorships, or traineeships, in the midst of Europe's refugee crisis. We applied as Stitch by Stich for the nine-month program. At that time, it was just Claudia, the designer, and me, the marketing expert. It was this combination that brought us together. As we received numerous inquiries, we started to advertise our business plans, leading us to open a workshop in Frankfurt in August 2016 with two female tailors.

We responded to the call to bring refugees into employment by working with them on real projects while also providing training to certify their skills. Tailoring is an esteemed profession in their home countries, but it's fading in Germany. We aimed to revive it and address the need for skilled tailors in the market.

Can you take us through the process, from client inquiry to final product?

When a client reaches out, we inquire if they have a tech pack, sketches, or materials in mind. Based on this, we provide a rough estimate of our offer. They send us the necessary materials, and we create a prototype. This serves to determine the price, timing, and to show the quality we can deliver. Once approved, the client places an order, and production begins. Our local setup in Frankfurt allows for efficient communication, shorter production times, and we have a minimum order quantity of only five pieces.

How do you combine industrial production with craftsmanship?

innovation involves more than possessing the best machinery. We did purchase the latest technologies, including coverlock, overlock, and flat lock machines. This enables us to handle specialized techniques, such as crafting leggings and working with delicate materials. But our unique proposition is in the combination with craftsmanship, especially in pattern cutting at the level of your couture clients. Everything is done by hand; there isn't a machine where you put in the fabrics and the product comes out. We produce within a structured production line with stations, like in large-scale production facilities, but when needed, we work piece by piece to ensure quality. This approach allows us to handle diverse projects, from producing 300 silk-lined linen dresses to crafting 30 high-end velvet male bathrobes or upcycling sleeping bags into winter jackets. There is nothing we wouldn't try to work out and that makes us stand out.

Social Business | Credit: Stitch by Stitch

Can you share an example of such a customized project?

One of our standout projects is our own casual coat line, developed in collaboration with our tailors. Based on a silk coat with a Persian pattern one of them owned, we experimented with two lines of fabrics. One coat is crafted entirely from OEKO-TEX certified PET bottles. These fabrics are super soft, durable, water repellant and they come in vibrant colors, thanks to our German partner with over 30 years of experience in the field. The other type is a heavy Oxford weave, made from organic cotton sourced from Manchester, England. This fabric was also worn by the army in the 1930s and the first Mount Everest climbers, due to its exceptional weather resistance.

Sustainable production comes at a price. How do you address this with clients?

It is our Achilles' heel. Very early on, we incorporate that our pricing is quite different. Many people are excited to work with us until we tell them the price, because then they must sell it to their clients. We're all part of a big chain. The end consumer is starting to look into where and how clothes are produced, but we're not there yet. Just like the food industry: 15 years ago, you wouldn't have paid two euros for an organically grown orange.

People are still blinded, thinking something is 'cheap'. They don't see who are paying the higher price than the piece on sale – the tailors or seamstresses on the other side of the world. They can't live from the wages and work under horrible conditions. This is what motivates me as an entrepreneur. Until consumers and brands are willing to pay a fair price, they need to understand that there are people involved, not everything is automated. We try to document this, gifting photographs and videos of the production process to our clients, so they can use it for marketing.

How do your clients experience the benefits of nearshoring?

The difference with production countries far away is enormous. Pricewise, we could never compete. However, we do not offer what India, Bangladesh, or even larger companies in Turkey or Portugal are offering. You go there to produce thousands of pieces. With us, you produce tens to hundreds, on demand, which makes us more flexible. You don't need to book with us months ahead of time. We put in a lot of work to create the best product, and that's what you pay for – along with fair wages, above minimum wage. I think the industry is moving towards these smaller volumes. If brands would purchase less and put more money into quality, that would have a huge positive impact on the industry and the environment.

Sustainability is in the details | Credit: Stitch by Stitch

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