15%. The Waste on the Cutting Room Floor. Go Green, Here’s How

Are development and production samples considered waste?

Product development and pre-production samples are of multiple sets: a set for the designers, a set for a subgroup of the design team – the specification package team, a set for media photo shoots, and a set for the sales team.  What should happen is at least one set is archived.  The balance of samples are sold at “sample sales”, usually within the company and/or to the public. Typically, there is not much waste here to significantly impact environmental concerns.

Although waste can come from samples, if not responsibly discarded, the true waste comes from not having zero waste mandates in place.  Zero waste is key to a circular fashion system and should be factored in starting at phase one of the process – the design and pattern development phase, and continue throughout the supply chain.

According to Timo Rissanen, Assistant Professor of Fashion Design and Sustainability at Parsons the New School for Design, approximately 15 percent of textiles intended for clothing ends up on the cutting room floor.  Patterns should be engineered to reduce or eliminate excess textile waste in the cutting phase.  Designers have to construct a zero-waste pattern by planning the usage of the entire piece of textile.  It has long been used in the making of Japanese kimonos and Indian saris because it makes sense not to waste valuable textiles.  Back then sewers minimized waste by engineering the layout of the garment to maximize fabric yield.  Interesting shapes, lengths, and gussets were common along with wraps and ties, to mitigate waste.

Today’s designers are creative in utilizing textiles.  Pablo Martinez takes two approaches.  One approach is using what he learned from his study of cultures that made clothes without discarding any part of the cloth – specifically the huipil in Guatemala and the kimono in Japan.  The other approach is draping.  Pablo explains in intricate detail its demands, “I have to drape on the mannequin without carving out any piece of material. Seams are now 6 centimeters wide, all leftovers are hidden between the fabric and the lining.  It’s very time consuming as I drape myself and discard a lot of useless pieces until I get it right. It’s like trying to drape without having the foundation to do it, although I follow the main guidelines to get it as best as I can.”

Growing up in a family run kimono business, Jun Nakamura’s use of a reverse technique of the traditional Japanese method, shibori, allows him to design on form.  He says, “developing design by working on a form, sketching, and collaging is similar to that of creating art.  It all challenges our creativity, striking a balance as a whole piece.”  More importantly he sees it as a natural process for the shibori structure by “shaping garments without any darts”.  The binding of the fabric by thread, called ‘bits’, creates a pleating, sheering, and bubble effect that have no restrictions on fabric usage.  All fabric can be used up without waste.

Jun Nakamura designs, courtesy of Jun Nakamura, 10
Jun Nakamura, modern shibori technique

[Related Article: Preserving the Art of Shibori | EDGE Talks to Jun Nakamura]

Silvia Giovanardi, of the namesake fashion house in Milan Italy, says she uses a lot of tools to lessen the negative environmental impact with her design practice.  She only creates patterns that produce almost zero waste.  The same goes for Paola Masperi  designer/owner of Mayamiko in Malawi, Africa, who says her entire practice is completely zero waste. “We recycle every bit of material we have left, any unsold items are upcycled into new products or we create items for the community ie fabric balls for local schools, bunting, school uniforms, etc.”

When a pattern is cut from a sheet of fabric, there will be remnants.  Remnants turn into tonnage of textile waste.  Mitigation starts at the design phase and if you fall short in reducing waste through pattern engineering, there are alternatives.  Like Paola Masperi,  Laura Tanzer upcycles and finds a new use for her cutting waste, “when we cut a production run, we naturally try to maximize use of the fabric, but there will always be remnant pieces of various sizes. The larger pieces go to my cousin, who makes totes and clutches that accessorize the current collection.  Smaller pieces go to schools and children’s organizations, to be used for art projects.”

Up to 80% of a garment’s environmental impact is decided in the design phase. Only a few designers and product developers realize their potential to create sustainable change through their decision.

– Jonas Eder-Hansen, vice president & development director at the Danish Fashion Institute | Recycling International

Sketch illustrations, Alena Sablan, designer | © EDGExpo.com

Resources, further study:

The EchoChic Design Award, Zero Waste Design Technique, pdf.

Zero-waste Design, The Creation of Waste-Free Garments, by Jessica Yen

Make Use includes seven free patterns that you can download and use.

Timo Rissanen and Holly McQuillan, two industry pioneers, authored Zero Waste Fashion Design, a comprehensive book that offers zero waste techniques including: criteria for zero waste fashion design; manufacturing zero waste garments; adapting existing designs for zero waste; zero waste designing with digital technologies.

Schreiber, Jessica, Recycling Fashion’s Remnants: Residential and Commercial Textile Waste, Cooper Hewitt Design Journal

Images: Drawings and story board/pattern development, Alena Sablan, designer

Rhonda P. Hill

Founder, Publishing Editor