ZERO WASTE design
According to fashionrevolution.org it is estimated that we produce 400 billion m2 of textile annually, but 60 billion m2 of this is left on the cutting room floor. Most of these leftovers end up in asian landfills,far from sight, far from mind. 15% of the energy and money spent on growing, harvesting, weaving, shipping...etc is spent for NOTHING - aside from polluting. Trying to solve this issue (mainly considered as an economical problem rather than an environmental one) textile companies now use automatic nesting softwares which enable them to test hundreds of pattern laying combinations in the shortest period of time. Consequently, they manage to gain a few centimeters of fabric but let's face it... even with the most powerful algorithms available on the market, we are still far from a miracle. This is as simple as understanding that, mathematically (and this is nothing new) it is impossible to create a whole rectangle from circles.
This 15% of waste is actually the consequence of an excessive and reckless use of curves in conventional pattern making. As cutting and manufacturing are often outsourced in developing countries, occidental fashion designers never have to face the amount of waste created by their own collections. When it comes to making design choices, fabric dimension constraints and pattern layouts are secondary concerns for them.
But what should we do ?
> Blame Asian production units about their inability to manage waste ? Too easy
> Invest in new recycling techniques ? A good idea but still incomplete.
Then why don't we try to solve the problem at its source by reconsidering our designing & pattern making techniques ? Today in the fashion industry, most of the garments are developed following a block template inherited from "made to measure" garments. This template is a combination or horizantal and vertical measures that represent the body in an upright position. These conventional pattern blocks are taught in schools as the rules of garment making. Taking into account their worldwide daily use, it seems almost impossible to consider things differently... And yet an official alternative exists. But literally no one considers it in the fashion industry.
Often listed as the technique of "Zero waste Fashion Design", this philosophy demonstrates how we can consciously study a garment design so all the pattern pieces fit together on the fabric, without producing any waste. See how I said "philosophy" and not "method" - this is because it is not based on any strict pattern making rules, all that is important is the use of the whole surface of the fabric required to cut the garment... sounds pretty clear like that, doesn't it ?
Conventional VS. ZERo WASTE
conventional cutting plan
Zero Waste cutting plan
HOW DIFFERENT is ZERO WASTE DESIGN ?
In zero waste pattern making, garment curves (such as necklines, waists or armholes) are consciously studied so that once patterns are laid on the fabric, concave curves match with convex ones and all the fabric is then covered. No waste is produced. Compared to the conventional technique, where pattern pieces are developed and managed independently, zero waste patterns are presented as rectangular blocks which represent directly the fabric used (width x length). Each pattern shape is then created by drawing internal cutting lines. As each element has a direct effect on the other ones nearby, designing and pattern making are thought out simultaneously. This enables us to make strategic design choices. Decreasing waste from 15% to 0% doesn't automatically mean that the total length of fabric used decreases. It really depends on how it has been thought out. However by integrating, from the beginning, the negatives spaces into the design, there is then no need to think about recycling anymore as the whole surface of the fabric has been used. This savings are long term.
From my point of view, Joe O'neill's work is an excellent illustration of how zero waste design works. On the right, the picture of a raincoat created for the project ZEROWASTE MENSWEAR and above, the pattern used to cut the garment. The most interesting thing about this project is to see how Joe O'neill works on his designs. As you can see through the sketch below, he analyzes simultaneously how his design choices affect pattern layouts and consequently adjusts a few details so they all finally fit in a rectangle.
Even though there are no technical rules in Zero Waste design, there is however a common practice which seems to work pretty well: proceeding hierarchically from macro pattern pieces to micro. Proceeding this way, we still decide at first the general shape we want to give to the garment. Therefore we lay the biggest pieces (back/ front/ sleeves) first and then we think about the smaller pieces (collar, cuffs, buttoning, pockets) according to the shape of the spaces left on the fabric. Of course, sometimes depending on the garments complexity, it takes a while to figure out what would be the best layout but its worth not to giving up !
Besides the positive impact such a practice has on the environment, there are other interesting benefits to consider:
>> In the conventional practice, fabric selvedges are systematically thrown away because they are visually different from the rest of the fabric roll (as they are often woven tightly). As Zero waste design philosophy invites to use the whole surface of the fabric roll, selvedges actually become a benefit to the final garment, either by integrating them into seams (which makes them stronger) or by willingly integrating them into the design, making each piece unique depending on their placement.
>> In the olden days, pattern makers added a seam allowance of up to 2,5cm for each garment, allowing themto be easily altered afterwards. But then over time, for "savings" purposes they decreased those seam allowances to 1cm, even sometimes 0,7cm. So don't be surprised if your find your garments are fraying after a few cleanings! Also with a 0,7cm allowance, it's almost impossible to alter anything without loosing a size. This is why Zero Waste Design invites the use of larger seam allowances, making garments last longer, and enabling alterations - the garments last longer with a hight quality. This, in addition to covering the whole surface of the fabric is definitely worth considering.
>> Durability of zero waste garments is also achieved by using the excess material as "strengthening" in sensitive areas. For example, in the Japanese kimono, the excess of fabric from around the neckline is folded underneath, to help strengthen the neck area. In the same way, a multitude of other techniques can be imagined and applied daily. And once gain, smart tricks can make unique pieces.
>> In zero waste design, a single cutting line separates two pieces. No need cut the same area twice. Therefore cutting time is decreased significantly compared to conventional patterns.
>> For me, Zero Waste design is also a great opportunity to co-design. Indeed, by making designers, pattern makers and cutters discuss their respective constraints and challenges, a new creative process could see the light. People need to stop believing each specialist has nothing creative to share. Multidisciplinary discussions are always a great opportunity to find new and innovative ideas.
Thanks to my experience as a CAD software support at the Lectra HelpDesk, I have had the chance to discuss with different garment makers, such as designers, pattern makers, patterns graders, pattern cutters, and I understood that there are 3 major barriers for an immediate application of the Zero Waste Design philosophy in the fashion industry.
The first barrier, for me, is the rule of the pattern template system from which most garments are developed. Inherited from "made to measure" techniques, these pattern templates could be considered as part of our fashion legacy, and it would be inappropriate to reconsider them. They are so well rooted in the industry, that they are even the bases to CAD (Computer Aided Design) systems.
The second barrier is the separation between specialists. Creation and production are often split into different locations, different regions, even different countries, which significantly lowers the quality of collaboration and communication between people. Each sector has a very limited vision of the global process and therefore waste awareness is non existent. Even CAD system producers (Gerber/ Lectra / Optitex/ Invetronica) have developed one specific software for one specific job.. which makes co-design very difficult to implement now.
The third barrier is education but, for me, this is where change can happen! Fashion schools, litterature and media constantly talk about the myths and genius of fashion designers. Consequently, they teach pattern making as a secondary, rigid and non creative practice. This makes it more difficult for a designer to accept that pattern shapes have to be considered during design decisions.
Even though Zero Waste Design is not yet well implemented in the fashion industry, a small but growing community of active designers and academics, do however, exist. Of course, they all have their own design approach but still, they keep in mind that fabric is a notable ressource and shouldn't be wasted for any style options.
OPEN SOURCE benefits
Why sharing open source patterns ?
Zero Waste Design is a philosophy which deserves to be known and widely implemented. However this cannot be possible without demonstrating the benefits and the different techniques. Sharing in open source allows designers to understand, be inspired and think about it for futures collections.
It is unlikely that two designers, with their own backgrounds and personal influences, would design exactly the same garment with the same technique. And even if design was copied, would it really be a problem ?
If you have never noticed it, you need to open your eyes : all of the garments available in stores today are identical (in terms of shape) from one brand to another.
Indeed, to create new garments, they are shopping and copying what they find in competitors' stores. In the industry it's a well known phenomenon but it doesn't seem to bother anyone...obviously !
What is the point of keeping patterns secret then ? Once we understand how zero waste design works, we will also understand how powerful and unlimited this philosophy is.
Sharing is allowing us to innovate together.