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Resource Management

Zero-waste design

An important component of becoming ‘more sustainable' is recycle and reuse, i.e., to prevent as much waste as possible from a textile manufacturer or cut and sew operation's waste from going to a landfill. Apparel industry professionals say that about 15 to 20 percent of the fabric used to produce clothing winds up in the nation's landfills because it's cheaper to dump the scraps than to recycle them. An article in the Aug 15, 2010 Sunday New York Times discusses zero-waste design [Fashion Tries on Zero Waste Design; ]. Zero-waste design strives to create clothing patterns that leave no scraps of fabric on the cutting room floor. It is a way to eliminate millions of tons of solid waste a year going to landfills.  

A small group of designers has spent a few years quietly experimenting with innovative design techniques -- some of their ideas are starting to penetrate the mainstream. Parsons the New School for Design will offer one of the world's first fashion courses in zero waste. Students in the new Parsons class will try to figure out how to create zero-waste jeans without compromising style and to make jeans more sustainable in their post-retail life (i.e., rethinking how jeans are cared for and disposed of). The book "Shaping Sustainable Fashion: Changing the Way We Make and Use Clothes," by Alison Gwilt and Timo Rissanen, will be published in February 2011; an exhibition of zero-waste fashions will be held in New Zealand next spring and in New York the following fall; and in March 2011, an exhibition, "No Waste/Zero Waste" will open at the Averill and Bernard Leviton A + D Gallery in Chicago, part of Columbia College Chicago.

A way to eliminate waste is to create a garment pattern - with gussets, pockets, collars and trims - that fits together like a puzzle or to simply not cut the fabric at all, but drape it directly onto a mannequin, then tuck, layer and sew. But these techniques have not made much headway with large manufacturers, partly because of the costs and existing infrastructure. Sustainable design does not necessarily cost more, but overhauling a factory is expensive not practical. Another dilemma is that a fashion label can't sacrifice style for sustainability.  

Few brands or retailers are powerful enough to bring about a supply line reinvention. An exception may be  Wal-Mart. In 2008, they set forth a long-term goal of zero waste in all its stores, yet even for Wal-Mart, that goal is far from being realized.  

Question: What efforts are you making to reduce cutting waste?

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