When we think about zero waste in the fashion industry we tend to focus on extending the lives of clothes by creating desirable second hand markets, or turning old items in to new. But one way to reduce waste is at the production end. Simply better design and cutting patterns.
Experts say that between 15-20% of fabric used to produce clothing ends up in landfill because of the way it is cut. However a new generation of designers are trying to eliminate that waste by creating designs where no scrap of fabric is left over. In the UK designers such as Mark Liu, Julian Roberts and Zandra Rhodes are leading this revolution. There are others around the world including: Susan Dimasi and Chantal Kirby in Australia; Ms. McQuillan in New Zealand; and Yeohlee Teng, who is working in New York but was born in Malaysia.
These designers create patterns like a jigsaw, so that gussets, pockets and collars fit together like a puzzle. Others are experimenting with not cutting at all, and instead using a tuck, layer and sew technique.
It seems common sense to reduce waste, and that it would be a cost saving in the long wrong, right? Wrong. To change the way garments are cut would mean a change in the infrastructure, which would be costly. For example, the standard fabric width for commercial denim production is 60 inches wide. Using a different width would require re-engineering a supply line. It is simply cheaper to chuck out waste than overhaul an entire factory.
Few companies and brands have the power to demand such a change. An exception might be large companies such as Wal-Mart. In the past they have told their suppliers that it would only sell low energy light bulbs and laundry detergent which uses 50 percent less water. However, although in 2008 the retail giant set itself a target of zero waste in its stores, it has yet to make an impact further down their supply chain.
If you would like to see your favourite High Street chain use zero waste production methods then tell them so. Consumer pressure can trickle down the supply change, and see large companies taking action to stop this wasteful practice.