A few of the smaller, independent clothing manufacturers deliberately produce clothes in very small batches. A good example in the UK is Albam, a producer of casual wear that has much in common with the tailors of this world in terms of its attention to fit and cloth above fashion.
In theory, Albam has seasonal collections like any other brand. But in reality these are just slightly thicker bunchings of the regular new stocks dropping into the London stores every couple of weeks. The new Autumn chino entered stores in September, timed just like everyone else for the moment we are supposed to begin thinking about clothing for the colder months. But since then new arrivals have come in fits and starts – the rollneck jumper, the chunky zip-up, the Ventile mac. And in the next few months you can expect some V-neck sweaters, tank tops and hopefully a version of its Alpine rain jacket.
This could easily be confusing and frustrating. To know what Albam will be introducing any given week, you have to either pop by the store or (more likely) check out the Albam blog. Indeed, the blog is probably the only way this approach can effectively communicate with enthusiastic customers (like me). Without the availability of such electronic communication one would probably end up tipping away from regular, voluntary updates and towards annoying ‘out of stock’ frustration.
So far, I’ve never tipped that way. This is despite the fact that I have missed out on several items that either went as soon as I discovered them or sold out while I was making up my mind. Those unfortunates include the previous Alpine jacket and the Cola Autumn chino. The latter seemed to disappear in a matter of days.
The production numbers are small. For example, the shirts are usually only made in runs of 70 in each colour; there will be just 100 of the shawl-collar cardigans across five sizes.
But the styling, while it changes slightly from one iteration of a product to the other, is consistent. You know what you’re getting with their chinos: hard-wearing, practical trousers that retain impressive sophistication in colour and style. Most changes are an improvement: the piece that first made them famous, a fisherman’s cagoule, added a better button, then a better thread, later a stronger draw cord, eventually corozo-nut buttons, finally better corozo buttons. They are also happy to upgrade items when customers notice theirs have been superseded.
The small runs were initially born out of necessity when Albam started out – that was all they could afford to produce. Now, what could be seen as a dangerous tactic has proven to be an advantage. It certainly has me hooked, checking the blog on a regular basis and always dropping by the stores when I’m in the area.
My brother found it frustrating when I introduced him to Albam a couple of months ago – nothing he wanted seemed to be available in his size. But then he’s not much of a shopper. He’s since bought one thing (and that was a gift) while I’ve bought six. So with fans like me, who needs him?