In a world of faster-than-fast fashion, wardrobe goals of buying beautiful ‘forever’ clothes often become a distant thought at the sight of an affordable, lightning-quick, as-seen-on-celebs garment. While many of us set sights on dropping hard- earned cash on pieces that will be cherished for a lifetime, our resolve often weakens at the instant gratification of spending just a little bit of money on something on-trend, albeit limited in wearability and durability. When looking to balance expert craftsmanship and enduring design with a reasonable price point and striking silhouettes, it seems as though the fashion world is determined to keep the two apart.
Enter Layplan. In a delightful meet-cute, long-time friends Lavinia Ilolahia and Talia Soloa formed their friendship after meeting on a bus to the same museum while both studying fashion design at Massey University in Wellington. They instantly bonded over a love of the creative realm and very soon Layplan, a made-to- order fashion model that’s quickly garnered a cult-like following, was born.
As the name alludes, Ilolahia and Soloa fashion all of their garments from scratch. Rather than offering consumers a dizzying array of styles, Layplan is turning its back on the relentless churn-out of products we’ve come to expect — and even demand — when shopping contemporary fashion. Collections are concise, consisting of a handful of styles in just a few colours. Once an order is placed, the garment is made with only one fabric.
What began as making clothes for themselves, soon turned into countless requests from friends asking for dresses for birthdays and 21sts. It wasn’t long until the duo found themselves running a small business from home, which, in the last two years, has blossomed. As its profile rises, the company continues to trigger a change of perception when it comes to the fashion mindset of millennials and Generation Z — fashion fanatics who demand next-day delivery, affordable dupes, and uber-trendy fashion more than any other.
Given the demographic, it’s unsurprising that social media has played a significant role in connecting designers with their customers. While such an intimate relationship has often been reserved for the out-of-reach world of haute couture, in this day and age, Instagram, in particular, is helping facilitate conversations between up-and-coming designers and potential clients to ensure that the latter gets exactly what they want.
But, as Soloa points out, while it feels new to this generation, this is a way of working and shopping that is a throwback to traditionalism.
“We’re not trailblazers in this way, it’s definitely in our backyard,” she says. “You’ll often find your aunty doing custom work, or smaller businesses doing Islandwear.” Ilolahia agrees, and adds, “What we do have is social media. It’s allowed us to share our story and push it out in a way that’s personal to us — it helps Layplan stand out and invites the customer to understand how we work.”
And how they work is slow. Or, rather, not slow at all, but it’s what we’ve come to call slow because it doesn’t arrive on our doorstep the very next morning after hitting Add to Cart the evening prior.
“We make it clear to the customer that their piece will take two weeks to make,” says Ilolahia. “At least! We’re two people, we make it all ourselves, and as we grow the team, we hope to keep it this way,” Soloa chimes in. It all comes down to the reality that this is how long it takes to make a beautifully constructed, hand-sewn dress that is both current and classic, striking, and versatile. Something most of us are guilty of forgetting, or wilfully ignoring.
In addition, they work with deadstock fabric — fabric destined to become waste due to oversupply or change of heart — meaning that the pieces you buy aren’t available in different colours and prints. This is a deliberate decision, and one that results from a close-knit supply chain. “We have a great relationship with our supplier and we work with him to select the best fabrics,” says Ilolahia. “And it’s much more fun this way,” adds Soloa. “This way we have to mix it up with every drop.”
While the pair might not consider themselves trailblazers, in recent weeks it has become apparent that the New Zealand fashion landscape is slowly but surely following in their footsteps. “I know a few designers that have quietly moved to made- to-order in some parts of their business,” says Ilolahia. And she’s not wrong in assuming that Covid-19 has played a big role in the shift we’re currently witnessing. “It’s definitely impacted global supply.”
In the not-too-distant future, customers will be able to customise Layplan’s garments once the website allows for extra detail. For now, Ilolahia and Soloa invite their customers to reach out over Instagram or email if they’re looking for something bespoke.
When asked if they think it’s fair to say the time it takes to make a piece is proportional to how long it will be worn and loved, they agree, but emphasise wearability. Ilolahia explains, “It’s not necessarily about keeping it forever but about finding ways to style it, to get a lot of use out of it, and then when it comes to the end of its life in your wardrobe, hopefully it will be lovingly passed on.”