Embracing made-to-order fashion through Emily Westenberger


A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing and onboarding Emily Westenberger to our ShopSustainably marketplace. Emily Westenberger is slowing down fashion by producing made-to-order nostalgic silhouettes with modern details and fabrics, sustainably sourced and ethically produced. 

Shruti: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background, and what you would want our readers to know about you?

Emily: I am the founder, designer, and creative director behind my namesake brand Emily Westenberger. I grew up in York, Pennsylvania and knew from a young age that I wanted to be a designer. I was first inspired by my mom who liked to quilt and sew. In high school, I would rework old clothing bought on consignment. I always dreamt of moving to Los Angeles, California, which I did immediately after completion of my Fashion Merchandising and Marketing degree from Virginia Commonwealth University. After working on the buying end of fashion, I decided to pursue Fashion Design at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in downtown Los Angeles.

I created Emily Westenberger the brand during the Covid pandemic shortly after getting my degree in design. 


My muse is a woman who makes sensibility, charm, and politeness cool and modern, which is reflected in classic silhouettes that are never overly sexy but still fun. I love to pull inspiration from vintage photographs and designers like Piere Cardin and  Balenciaga. I often find myself designing around a certain vintage element that I love, and I try to figure out how I can make it modern and more my style.

My brand represents quiet luxury for clothes that are meant to be fallen in love with and treasured with a focus on wearability, quality, effortlessness, and craftsmanship. I find that focusing on these qualities makes for more sustainable pieces that are still fashion forward with roots in timelessness, elegance, and a hint of glamour.

Sustainability plays a large role in my brand's production process. I make each garment made-to-order in my Los Angeles studio, which allows me to avoid excess inventory. The majority of garments are produced from deadstock fabric to support a circular economy, where waste is eliminated by keeping materials in use. I am also working on a collection where I will be reconstructing old clothes and upcycling old textiles like tablecloths, quilts, and blankets. 

Shruti: You are very unique as you are a made-to-order brand. Can you share a little bit more on what that is? Why did you choose made-to-order for your brand? 

Emily: I created a made-to-order brand for several reasons. One reason is that I am a new designer, so I want to be able to test new styles without the financial commitment that manufacturing entails. By making my styles to order, I don’t need to keep inventory. Since I am still learning about myself as a designer and learning about my target market, I don’t want to keep a large stock that would end up going to waste. 

Down the road, as my business grows, I would still like to keep the made-to-order model because it is simpler. For example, I don’t need to worry about quality control when all the pattern-making, cutting, and sewing is done in my own studio. I’m also a slow fashion brand. Even if I did not use the made-to-order business model, I would focus on small scale production. I love fashion design because I love the process of designing, draping, cutting, and sewing. Manufacturing on a large scale takes away from the art of design, in my opinion. An added bonus is that made-to-order also allows me to customize sizing upon request, which allows for inclusive sizes. 

Shruti: So I noticed that a lot of times these fast fashion brands, H&M or Aritzia or Zara, have “sustainable” lines. 

Emily: Yes, but you have to watch out for those! There’s a thing called “greenwashing”, which is basically providing misleading information about how a company's products are environmentally sound. I’m not an expert at sustainable production, and I haven’t researched myself what exact processes those particular brands use (I try to avoid them regardless), but I can tell you that at the rate they are putting new clothes out on their sales floor, it doesn’t seem very sustainable to me. 

There are a lot of elements of sustainable fashion. Sustainability in fashion can refer to the materials, the production, the designs, the business model, the packaging etc. I try my best to make sure I’m being cognizant about every aspect of my business. It’s a lot easier when you are running a small business. I can’t imagine what sort of waste these global fast fashion brands are producing, especially because they produce new merchandise so often. I produce two collections a year, and I’m reusing old fabrics from previous collections to make new samples. It takes creativity and time and logistics to be able to utilize upcycling in design. I’m sure it’s very difficult for global fast fashion brands to be operating sustainably in every aspect. 

Shruti: First of all, how do you feel about this? Second, as a sustainable brand, how does this impact your business? How can consumers become more mindful? 

Emily: I’m glad you asked this because it’s such an important topic for a sustainable designer! I believe the main way this impacts my business is with consumer perception. Because of these fast fashion brands, clothing is now perceived as being disposable because of the fast pace at which clothes are manufactured, worn, and discarded rather than being long lasting keepsakes. 

Over time consumer perception has shifted to expect a new stream of items constantly. Just look at brands like Fashion Nova; they launch 600-900 new styles every week!! The rapid rate has only increased the shopper’s desire to buy more for a low cost. It’s crazy to think that in the 1950s, if a woman wanted to purchase a dress, she would spend $9 (or $72 today) to order an item from a Sears catalog. Today a shopper can walk into a mall into an H&M and buy a dress for $12.

These fast fashion brands have an incredible stronghold over consumer’s shopping habits because they use a highly responsive global supply chain to produce fast and cheap. An independent brand like mine cannot compete with them at a price level, but I can compete with them on quality, uniqueness, and responsibility. 

In my opinion, we cannot rely on retailers to change, actual change will happen when consumers decide what is more important - cheap, disposable fashion or higher quality, long lasting, sustainably sourced, and ethically produced manufacturing. It is so important for me as a designer to educate consumers about what is really happening behind these closed doors. Consumers need to be educated in order to shop mindfully, and it’s the fashion industry’s responsibility to fill them in. 

Shruti: Okay, we talked a lot about your brand and background. I’d love to give our reader’s some insider info about what it's like being a brand owner? 

Emily: It’s always been my goal to have something of my own, and the only way to do that is to create it on your own. It’s pretty scary to just start putting your work out there. It can also be lonely sometimes because I am a small business, and it’s my vision aka not anybody else’s. It’s hard for other people to relate to that. 

Self-motivation is so important in my life. If I wake up one day and decide I am not going to do anything, then guess what happens- nothing gets done!! No one else will do it for me. I have to be so disciplined and motivated to keep things moving. I get in a rut sometimes, but I have little tricks to get myself motivated. I am constantly managing online marketing, social media, the website, reaching out to stylists / buyers, sourcing, producing, sketching, fulfilling orders, sewing, hiring, organizing photoshoots, gifting, and on top of that designing new collections. It’s a lot of work to say the least. I have to force myself to rest sometimes. 

I also invest my own money into my business, so I work a full time job completely separate from fashion in order to pay my bills. I’m so proud to be building something everyday. It takes time, but I know that as I am getting better as a designer and shipping my work, it will pay off. I constantly remind myself about what I want from creating my own brand. I want to be the best designer I can be, which involves designing every day. I also want to impact the world with my own love for small scale fashion and be able to educate others on the process and art of designing. When I focus on those two things, it gets me through my busy day. 

Shruti: To wrap it up, do you have anything else you’d like to share with our readers? Maybe  an easy tip that they can use to start becoming sustainable TODAY. 

Honestly, I would say just start shopping more mindfully and stop shopping at fast fashion brands. Understand that shopping sustainably is an investment. Like I said before, the industry will change when the consumer changes. 

I also would like to encourage anybody who has an idea or a business they want to start or if you are just nervous to put your creative work out there, to do so. Everyone has to start somewhere. Even if your work isn’t perfect (I am never 100% happy with my final product), just know that if you keep up the hard work, you will get closer to getting to where you want to be. 



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