Ever since I read the chapter on “Zero Waste Fashion Design” by Timo Rissanen in the book, Sustainable Fashion: What’s Next?, 2nd Edition (NY: Fairchild Books, 2015), I’ve been intrigued by the idea of designing apparel patterns that utilize 100% of the fabric when cut. Imagine – cutting apparel patterns with no fabric waste!
Reflecting on Timo’s description of the process of zero waste fashion design, I thought about my own experiences with creating patterns. As a young designer in college I loved the challenge of taking the patterns that I had made for a design (typically as a result of the flat pattern method of pattern making) and organizing them in a way that used the least amount of fabric as possible. I’ll admit that I undertook this process (which I later learned was called fabric utilization) because I was a poor college student and wanted to spend the least amount of money I could on the fabric I needed to create the design. That said, I was also reducing the amount of fabric waste in the pattern cutting process. During this process of organizing my patterns, I often found myself re-thinking the design in order to create a particular pattern piece that would allow for better fabric utilization.
As applied to industry practices, I saw this same process happen while visiting the production center of a large sportswear company in China. Their pattern engineers had discovered that they could increase fabric utilization for jackets with hoods by separating the hood pattern into two pattern pieces that would later be sewn together. The cost of having a sewing operator sew the pieces together was less than the cost of the fabric saved in the process (which is an issue for another blog posting…). I can only imagine the conversations between the pattern engineers and designers about the need for a seam in the hood that had neither a functional nor an aesthetic purpose!
Zero waste fashion takes fabric utilization to the extreme – creating patterns for a design that create a marker that looks like a large jigsaw puzzle and results in 100% fabric utilization. Creating these types of patterns is very difficult to do – as the human body is both 3-dimensional and asymmetrical, front and back! However, designers such as Timo Rissanen and Tara St. James (for Study NY) have taken on this challenge -- creating unique and wearable apparel designs with zero fabric waste in the cutting process. In order to reduce fabric waste (or ultimately to have zero waste) designers and pattern makers must work together with marker making and pattern cutting as important to the design process as the design itself.
I won’t go into the details of how zero waste fashion design can be integrated into larger scale pattern making and production in this short blog. If you are interested, Timo provides an excellent overview in his chapter in Sustainable Fashion. I will, however, share Timo’s advice to designers wanting to reduce fabric waste (p. 201):
When you next design or make a garment, examine the fabric. Try to see how the garment you want to create could use all of it. What is the relationship between the width of the fabric and garment? If you have a pattern, see where the largest gaps or waste occur between the pieces. How can you adjust the design by incorporating these gaps into the garment? Remember, your creativity and openness to possibility are your greatest asset. Remember also that these can be your greatest limitations. Try to identify what learned rules guide your practice. One useful advantage of rules is that they can help us make sense of things. Once we have learned a rule, breaking it may take us forward. Be brave.
Take Timo's advice --be open to new possibilities! Be brave! And in the process, reduce fabric waste!