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Zero-Waste Design: Eco-Fashion's Next Wave

8/27/2010 12:00:00 AM

Tags: fashion, industry, zero waste, design, clothing

Finding sustainable, ethically made clothing (that doesn’t cost a fortune) is no easy task. With so many factors involved in producing a single garment, there’s a lot to consider. Is the fabric organic? Who made it and under what conditions? How far did it travel to reach you? How much waste was created to produce it?

making jeans
Fashion designers are turning their attention to zero-waste design, which aims to create clothing that doesn't produce waste. Photo By hexodus/Courtesy Flickr. 

The fashion industry has responded to concerned fashionistas by offering more organic textiles and paying attention to labor and production issues, and now it’s turning its attention to a new goal: zero-waste clothing. Clothing design creates millions of tons of waste each year—as much as 15 to 20 percent of the fabric used to make garments falls to the cutting room floor, where it’s trashed instead of recycled. Zero-waste design creates clothing that allows every inch of fabric to be used. Designers can accomplish this by creating patterns where all the pieces fit together like a puzzle, using special cutting techniques, or not draping, tucking and sewing the fabric instead of cutting it.

In February, designers Alison Gwilt and Timo Rissanen will release a new book on zero-waste design, “Shaping Sustainable Fashion: Changing the Way We Make and Use Clothes,” and next fall an exhibition of zero-waste fashions will be held in New York and New Zealand. Next month Parsons the New School for Design will offer a zero-waste fashion course, and Loomstate will market the winning design next spring.

Like all sensible concepts, zero-waste design may take a while to catch on. It generally doesn’t work with current production infrastructure, which would require expensive overhauling to accommodate the new techniques. Making zero-waste garments look good—always a priority for the fashion industry—is another challenge. If zero-waste pieces don’t sell, neither will the idea—which is why we’re glad to see these fresh young minds take a crack at it. Organic cotton is so 2001.

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