Zero Out the Waste – In Style!
By Ai Harimoto
If you want a buzz word (or two) in the fashion industry right now, zero-waste is one of the stars. As the term implies, it’s all about how designers are using their materials and processes while minimizing or completely eliminating the scraps and waste that get spewed out by conventional design. Compared to all the cool ways that fashion has been evolving to incorporate sustainability into our favorite but incredibly wasteful industry, zero-waste might not seem so cutting edge. What you might not know is all the different ways that amazing people have been reinventing ordinary processes into something even better.
Several zero-waste techniques are currently floating around in the industry with some clever experts leading the way. Most renown is probably Dr. Mark Liu, a designer who applies mathematics to traditional patternmaking and became famous for his “jigsaw cutting,” a technique that requires imagining the garment in 3D and drawing the necessary 2D pattern on a single sheet of fabric like a puzzle. It may not be the easiest technique but it is absolutely stunning when properly executed, as evident in Dr. Liu’s zero-waste collections which have been featured internationally since his London Fashion Week debut in 2008.
Preceding Dr. Liu’s work is fashion designer Julian Roberts and his subtraction cutting technique which he began teaching in 1998. A unique spin on traditional pattern making and draping, this technique focuses on cutting out holes in a flat piece of material and turning the negative space into openings that will allow designers to twist or loop the fabric to create clothing. The results are incredibly versatile and dynamic shapes that can transform depending on how the garments are worn.
Want to go even further back in time? We’ve got geometric cutting which has been around for centuries! It’s fairly straightforward – it utilizes simple shapes to construct garments with minimal waste. Even better, most of you have seen garments made through this technique and you probably didn’t know it. Kimonos and Indian saris are products of geometric cutting, from a tale as old as time when fabric was a luxury and clothes were much harder and slower to churn out.
Then there’s the classic repurposing trick that takes discarded material and transforms it into something new and improved. Cambodian brand Net Effects Traders does a fantastic job of taking remnants of agricultural and industrial netting and recreating them into some super pretty bags, totes, and wallets that will catch you, hook, line, and sinker! As an owner of one of their wallets, I might be a little biased but check out this beauty and just try to tell me that it looks like something made from stuff that would have been garbage.
And if you think all this is cool, then take a look at what this Egyptian professor and fashion designer, Wafa Abdel Radi whipped out in 2015! He took many of these well-known zero -waste techniques and integrated them with macramé, a type of decorative knotting with African and Turkish roots. Basically, instead of sewing or knitting a particular design or motif into a garment, Dr. Radi knots them in. He wanted to create designs that reflected an Egyptian identity using zero-waste processes without sacrificing trends and aesthetic values. The result? Absolutely gorgeous pieces. You can see them in his report here.
Did You Know?
In 2015, an Indian scholar at the National Institute of Fashion Technology in New Delhi, Jaspal Kalra, researched the combination of zero-waste, traditional linear cutting and Chikankari, more commonly known as embroidery. With a dose of creativity and lots of experimentation by artisans involved in the project, the research resulted in a variety of loose garments that ranged from simple tunics to dresses and cardigans with more complex features like gathering, cascading hems, cascading and scooped hems, and an array of necklines and armholes.
But wait, there’s more!
In addition to these two techniques, Kalra further developed the experiments by including daraz, a decorative seaming that uses leftover fabric that would normally be discarded to create various designs and motifs. Talk about putting the icing on the cake, am I right?
The goal of this research was to introduce artisans to processes that included sustainability and fabric optimization in order to achieve a better zero-waste standard. Feel free to check out the whole project in Kalra’s essay which provides more details about the process.
From Zero to Hero
With both modern and century old techniques, zero-waste processes are becoming a major hit. What I've just written about here is only grazing the surface of what's possible. We have a long road toward a sustainable world but every solution starts from zero. So here's to the zero-waste heroes who are redefining conventional design!