Apparel industry professionals say that about 15 to 20 percent of the fabric use to produce clothing winds up in the American landfills because it’s cheaper to dump the scraps than to recycle them.
A small but impassioned coterie of garment designers has spent the last few years quietly experimenting with innovative zero waste design techniques, and some of their ideas are starting to penetrate the mainstream.
Nil waste design strives to create garment patterns that leave not so much as a scrap of fabric on the cutting room floor. This is not some wacky avantgarde exercise; it’s a way to eliminate millions of tons of garbage a year.
Parsons the New School for Design in New York is offering of the world’s first fashion courses in nil waste.
Among those instrumental in pushing for change in the fashion industry of nil waste pioneer, Timo Rissanen, a Finnish designer who is Parsons’ first assistant professor of fashion design and fashionability.
The goal of his class? To create jeans that are close to nil waste as possible but that are good looking, no easy task. Mr. Rissanen knows this first hand. Previously, he owns a men’s wear label called Usvsu.
“I basically had to learn to design again,” Mr. Rissanen said of his initial forays into zero waste. One way to eliminate waste is to create a garment pattern with gussets, pockets, collars and trims, that fits like a puzzle. Such designers favor certain cutting techniques like the “jigsaw cut.”
Another method is to simply not to cut the fabric at all, but drape it directly onto a mannequin, then stuck, layer and sew. With large manufacturers such techniques have not made much headway because of the costs and existing infrastructure.
The standard fabric width for commercial denim production is 60 inches wide. Using a different width might change how much waste is generated, but it would also require re-engineering a supply line.
While sustainable design does not necessarily cost more, overhauling a factory is obviously expensive.