Fashion Tries on Zero Waste Design -

14 August 2010

This article on 'zero-waste' fashion design got me so excited! Oh, how the past comes back to mock us! But first, a few excerpts that I found particularly interesting:

     Zero-waste design strives to create clothing patterns that leave not so much as a scrap of fabric on the cutting room floor. This is not some wacky avant-garde exercise; it’s a way to eliminate millions of tons of garbage a year. Apparel industry professionals say that about 15 to 20 percent of the fabric used to produce clothing winds up in the nation’s landfills because it’s cheaper to dump the scraps than to recycle them.
      One way to eliminate waste is to create a garment pattern — with gussets, pockets, collars and trims — that fits together like a puzzle. Such designers favor certain cutting techniques with names like the “jigsaw cut” (from Mr. Liu) and “subtraction cutting” (from Mr. Roberts). Mr. Rissanen put his on a blog, Another method is to simply not cut the fabric at all, but drape it directly onto a mannequin, then tuck, layer and sew.
       But these techniques have not made much headway with large manufacturers... That’s partly because of the costs and existing infrastructure. For example, the standard fabric width for commercial denim production is 60 inches wide. Using a different width might change how much waste is generated, but it would also require re-engineering a supply line. And while sustainable design does not necessarily cost more, overhauling a factory is obviously expensive. 
       Jeans are one of the most wasteful and polluting garments that are made,” said Mr. Collins of Parsons, citing not only the unused fabric, but also the dyes added only to be washed out again, the energy used to transport the denim all over the world, the packaging, and the gallons of water used by consumers to clean the jeans. “And of course it’s one of the staples of everyone’s wardrobe.”
       In some ways, zero waste is not new. Throughout history, consumers have had to adopt similar practices, such as rationing during wars, when women fashioned new outfits from old ones. Also, classic hobbies, like knitting and quilting, can be zero-waste endeavors.
       “We’re offended by 15 percent waste in fabric,” Mr. Collins [of Parsons] said. “We believe in great design. But we don’t believe in wasting clothes.”
                                                              ----->  link

   I found this article to be quite insightful. I also wanted to point out a quick fact: 17th-18th century garments (which I studied at university) were all cut out like 'jigsaw' puzzles to eliminate waste. Since the fabrics were all handmade, the richer the material and the more persnickity the brocading or embroidery, the more expensive (and rare!) a piece became. Waste was NOT an option. In our lab at the museum, we saw a man's vest, pockets, collar, and cuffs all designed and arranged neatly on a few yards of yellow silk (avec silk-embroidered floral patterns - c'est tellement of French origin). I would have loved to have take a photo, but it was prohibited. However, I have compiled a couple examples of what I'm referring to: 

For more patterns click here.
  Now, the nytimes article did not mention this reference to historical fashion design, but I was able to find a list of Mr. Rissanen's essential resources, and one of them was Dorothy Burnham's 'Cut My Cote'. No surprise there- it was also required reading for my course (which I consequently dropped after nearly escaping death with a 6-course load). With the above information in mind, I must reiterate, 'Oh, how the past comes back to mock us!'. 15-20% waste!? Dear me. 

Current example of 'zero-waste' patterns.


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