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As the fashion industry evolves and adapts to the evolving norms of environmental sustainability, new ways and means of reducing waste and increasing recyclability of clothing are being developed. Sustainability efforts have been focused on key areas like reducing fiber loss, yarn loss, fabric wastage and recycling materials for new garments.

Standard designs with cutting result in approximately 15 to 20 per cent of fabric wastage, resulting in millions of tons of garbage that typically ends up in landfills every year. To reduce this, designers came up with the concept of designing garments to ensure minimal or nil wastage of the fabric. The techniques to do this are called pre-consumer zero waste techniques. The main categories into which they fall are zero waste design and zero waste manufacturing.


Holly McQuillan – Kimono Twist dress – Image courtesy : http://goo.gl/Nh3zXi

pattern for kimono twist

Holly McQuillan – Kimono Twist dress pattern plotting – Image courtesy : http://goo.gl/Nh3zXi

In Zero Waste Design, the pattern maker cuts a pattern in such a way within the structure of the fabric so that there is no scrap of fabric unutilized. New York’s Parsons the New School for Design – the setting of the famous “Project Runway” series has launched a course on Zero waste fashion design and international zero waste fashion designers such as Mark Liu (England), Susan Dimasi (Australia) Julian Roberts (England) and Yeohlee Teng (Malaysia) are working to bring the trend into mainstream fashion. While creating patterns like jigsaw puzzles (Mark Liu’s “jigsaw cut”) which leave no cutting margins is one approach, the other is to drape the fabric and then decide where to tuck, cut and stitch the folds and layers to eliminate fabric loss, like David Andersen. The challenge lies in the fact that zero waste design turns the entire process of fashion design upside down. The standard approach in fashion is to create design illustrations and sketches, present these to a patternmaker who then creates the patterns for manufacturing. Here, the designer has to start with the pattern and then work backwards to determine what designs can accommodate. Holly McQuillan’s Kimono twist dress is a great example of applying zero waste design.

Zero Waste Manufacturing is done at the manufacturing stage to eliminate waste material cut-off. While techniques like Indian fashion designer and technologist Siddhartha Upadhyaya’s DPOL (Direct Pattern On Loom)- which creates the required panels directly in weaving the fabric, thereby eliminating all waste from cutting – are gaining ground, these are yet to reach mainstream production as the investment required in machine modification and retooling is tremendous, preventing commercial large-scale ventures from venturing into this area. An alternative has been to ensure the use of cut-offs in the construction of other garments, thereby ensuring that the combined patterns of two or more designs result in a zero waste production process. Other designers like Daniel Silverstein use the leftover cut-offs as appliques and embellishments to the garment, ensuring not a scrap is wasted.


Mark Liu’s Zero-Waste Designs – Image courtesy: http://goo.gl/oEl5LV

Another widely debated way (and according to the industry, one of the simplest to implement) is the reuse of old garments to create new designs. This is known as post-consumer zero waste, and involves the re-cutting, shaping and stitching of old fabrics to create new garments. Portions of garments recycled through a waste collection system are purchased by manufacturers to create their new designs. Denim manufacturers are among the first to promote the reuse of old garments to develop new ones, given the life and durability of the fabric. This is another way of extending the life of the garment and reducing waste. This method too faces hurdles in terms of mass-managing the way old garments are collected and recycled, but retailers like Wal-Mart are looking for solutions.

Timo_jacket_largeSo how should a designer go about creating a zero waste design? Designer Zada Anditon offers some useful tips, as does Timo Rissanen. The biggest fundamental change for any designer is to get the mind-set right from the beginning. By working backwards from the fabric to developing the final design illustration requires a change in thinking from traditional designing and can be a long and arduous process.

Designers have to break the mold of their thinking process in order to design clothes that are truly zero-waste. But with an increasing effort towards better environmental sustainability, the trend should see increasing traction in coming years.

Supriya Ghurye is the founder and owner of Fuel4Fashion. She is a Freelance Fashion Designer, Sourcing and Manufacturing Consultant helping fashion brands to plan, design and develop new collections with small quantity garment manufacturing. Fuel4Fashion social links: Twitter, Pinterest Instagram