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Zero Waste Fashion Design

Zero Waste Fashion Design

The fashion industry is leaning more and more towards adopting sustainable practices as consumers are becoming aware of the negative impacts of fast fashion on environmental and human resources. Zero waste fashion design is one of the many ways that a brand can build a more sustainable production process.

What is zero waste fashion

Zero waste fashion, as the name implies, is the process of designing and making clothing without wasting any fabric. This could mean that the garment pattern is designed in such a way to utilize every last bit of fabric – the pattern pieces fit together perfectly, kind of like pattern tetris. It could mean that garments are designed and cut in a way that creates “scraps” in useful shapes and sizes that can be used to make other, smaller products. Or, zero waste fashion could be a brand that cuts garments in the traditional way but utilizes all of their offcuts – whether it be to make additional products or to recycle their scraps into new fabric. 

Zero waste fashion can look different for each brand or individual adopting the zero waste mentality, but the core concept is eliminating waste from the garment production process.

Zero waste fashion is not new

While the term “zero waste” is a relatively new one within the fashion industry, the concept of zero waste fashion has been around for centuries. Before fabric and garment production became as industrialized as it is today, it was typically frowned upon to waste fabric when making clothing. Traditional utilitarian garments across many cultures were created through zero waste practices. Examples include the Japanese Kimono and the Indian Saree. Even in ancient Greece and Rome, clothing was typically made from loosely draped rectangles or other simple shapes that didn’t waste much, if any, fabric.

However, with fast fashion taking over the industry, the benefits of zero waste garment production were temporarily lost in western culture. Thankfully, increased attention on sustainability across many different industries is bringing low-waste practices back into fashion.

How does FabricSight approach Zero Waste?

Another side of the zero waste concept is how some brands, independent designers or other professionals can source materials.

At FabricSight we offer two main ways to do this:

DeadStock Fabrics or Selected Surplus: most of the deadstock fabrics you will find come directly from top notch European fabric factories based in Italy, Spain and Portugal. Thanks to strong partnerships we have with such mills, we are able to offer high quality surplus fabrics at competitive prices and without MOQ (minimum order quantity). Why producing more when what you need has already been produced?

Re-orderable: these are fabrics that are always available to order starting from 1 meter.  This means our customers are able to order just the needed amount, as there is no MOQ, so they won't have surplus on any of these beautiful fabrics.
Most of these fabrics are available in good ranges of colors and are certified by well known certifications that ensure their sustainability.

Why zero waste fashion?

Each year, the fashion industry creates huge amounts of fabric and garment waste that gets added to our landfills, contributing to carbon emissions and global warming. However, it’s not just avoiding adding to our growing landfills that makes zero waste fashion a more environmentally friendly option. Using zero waste pattern cutting results in brands needing less yardage of fabric to produce the same number of garments – which means ordering less fabric over time, reducing the resources used to produce fabric.

Benefits of zero waste fashion design

There are many benefits to using zero waste processes to create clothing. Here are just a few.

  • Less waste destined for landfills. 
  • Less fabric needed to produce the same number of garments.
  • More efficient production.
  • Save money by ordering less fabric and reducing waste in the production process.
  • Explore creative and unique designs that aren’t available elsewhere.
  • Communicate your dedication to reducing waste through marketing to reach the right customers.

Drawbacks of zero waste fashion design

While zero waste design and practices are a great basis to create a sustainable fashion brand on, there are a few drawbacks that you’ll need to consider. 

  • Designs may be limited – if you have a design in mind but can’t come up with a creative way to make it zero waste, you may have to remove a design you love from consideration.
  • Traditional pattern-making processes and techniques will not necessarily work for zero waste designs.
  • If your goal is to limit the amount of fabric you waste, you’re also limiting the amount of fabric you order and use – meaning some fabric suppliers who are focused on their profits may not want to work with you.

How can a brand become “zero waste”?

As a fashion brand, adopting a zero waste approach is a great way to connect with sustainability-minded customers as well as do your part to reduce the impact of the fashion industry on the environment. Here are a few ways you can move your fashion brand towards a more sustainable, zero waste system. 

  • Creatively design patterns so that they fit together perfectly to use an entire piece of fabric.
  • Make secondary products from any unavoidable leftover pieces of fabric. Examples are smaller items like bags or scrunchies, pieced together items such as a patchwork top, or items like throw pillows that can be stuffed with small scraps.
  • Shred any tiny, unusable scraps and recycle them into new, unique fabrics that can go back to the beginning of the process and be used for new designs. 
  • Don’t over-order or over-produce – try to order only as much fabric as you need and produce only as many garments as you need. Massively overestimating your needs wastes resources and creates more waste. 
  • Try a made-to-order system. As a way to avoid issues caused by not overestimating fabric and garment production needs, try producing each garment after it has been ordered. Your sustainability-focused customers will appreciate your goals to eliminate waste and be happy to wait for their new, quality piece. 
  • Pair a zero waste system with sustainable, ethically sourced fabrics. We offer a huge selection of gorgeous, sustainable fabrics.

Designing zero waste patterns

Designing zero waste patterns is different than traditional methods of designing and drafting sewing patterns. Instead of starting from the design idea and sketch and considering the pattern and fabric requirements last, your process will be flipped to start with planning the pattern and lastly considering the look of the finished piece.

This process will use your creativity in a different way than traditional design. Instead of focusing your creativity on the silhouette and design details, you will be focused on creating unique and different patterns that fit with your no-waste ideals and that can also become flattering and wearable pieces.

If you’re ready to dive into the world of making zero waste patterns, there is a great book out there that will help you get your footing in the world of designing with the goal of eliminating waste: Zero Waste Fashion Design, written by Timo Rissanen and Holly McQuillan. 

5 awesome zero waste sewing patterns

If you’re new to zero waste sewing and fashion design, it can be helpful to sew up some already-drafted zero waste sewing patterns before diving into creating your own zero waste designs. Here are a few great options for zero waste sewing patterns that would be a great introduction to no-waste sewing.

Milan AV-JC is a brand run by Mylène L’Orguilloux, who designs and provides open source zero waste sewing patterns. She believes that traditional design is a part of the issue when it comes to the wastefulness of the fashion industry, so wants to bring zero waste designs to more people. Her suede trench coat pattern is a stylish, belted trench with a classic silhouette. However, though the silhouette is classic, the pattern and construction are not, as they utilize zero waste techniques such as skipping the lining, facings, and edge finishings.

Elbe Textiles is a sewing pattern company based in Australia. They provide sewing patterns with the goal of encouraging more people to sew and to help consumers to see that ethical and environmentally friendly fashion is possible by making your own clothing. While not all of Elbe Textile’s patterns are zero waste, they do have a great one, the Maynard Dress pattern. This dress is a stylish, asymmetrical wrap dress with a v-neckline and a relaxed fit. 

Birgitta Helmersson is a sewing pattern and clothing designer based in Sweden who designs beautiful zero waste patterns and garments. You can purchase thoughtful, quality, no-waste clothing from her shop or browse through her selection of zero waste patterns, including the Workwear Jacket pattern. This jacket is a loose fitting, utilitarian coat with a button front, collar, and three front pockets. Birgitta Helmersson’s patterns do not come with printable pattern pieces, instead they include instructions to draw the pattern pieces onto the fabric before cutting.

Make/Use is a project led by Holly McQuillan that was started with the goal of reducing waste in the fashion industry. One way they work towards that goal is by providing information on creating garments using methods that reduce or eliminate waste and by encouraging modification by the end consumer to extend the garment’s life. On their website, Make/Use offers several zero waste patterns, including a wrap skirt pattern. The wrap skirt design is simple and timeless, yet stylish.

Schnittchen Patterns is an indie pattern company based in Munich, Germany that creates fashionable, modern patterns. Their focus is on empowering creativity through sewing and making the process of creating a garment as simple as possible through detailed sewing instructions and tutorials. They currently offer two zero waste sewing patterns, including their “Zero Waste No. 2” shirt pattern. The shirt is a simple but modern shape with gathering at the hem of the center front and back. It also features an adorable pocket with a ruffle detail.

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