Zero Waste Fashion Design - Reducing Fashion Waste

Zero Waste Fashion Design – Reducing Fashion Waste

Zero-waste fashion design refers to the practice of creating garments in a way that no material waste is generated in the making process. 

It is estimated that approximately 15% of the fabric used in the production process of the conventional design approach is discarded. This waste usually ends up in landfill or in an incinerator as it is cheaper to throw it away than recycle it. 

Every year 53 million tonnes of fibre are produced for the clothing industry. Textile production (including cotton farming) uses around 93 billion cubic metres of water per year. Manufacturing plastic-based fibres require approximately 342 million barrels of oil annually, while cotton farming needs 8 million tonnes of fertiliser and 200,000 tonnes of pesticides annually to be grown. Natural fibres also require large areas of land to be cultivated. In addition, chemicals used in the manufacturing process of fibres and textiles account for roughly 43 millions tonnes per annum. 

Fashion is a growing industry and 15% of pre-consumer fabric going to waste is just not sustainable. In fact, it isn’t only an extra cost for brands and municipalities, but it also a misuse of precious natural resources and human labour.

The textile industry is responsible for 8-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the second largest consumer of water supplies, and it has been identified as a major contributor to the growing microplastic pollution in our oceans. In addition, fabrics and textiles might be produced in countries where environmental and health and safety regulations are not as tight. 

If we want to reduce the social and environmental impacts of the clothing industry, a solution is urgently needed.

Design efficiency can significantly reduce the economical, social and environmental costs of the textile industry, while preserving natural and human resources. Usually off-cuts and leftover fabrics are generated because a designer operates independently of the pattern maker. In addition most garment designs include curved seams and ems, as well as multiple pieces that flare at different angles.

Recently, a handful of designers and fashion companies have come up with different ideas to minimise fabric waste. Three diverse approaches are commonly used and include: zero-waste design, upcycling and 3D printing.

Zero Waste Design

Zero waste design, as the name suggests, refers to the practice of designing clothing’s patterns using the whole fabric. It can be achieved by using techniques such as draping, knitting, fabric optimisation and zero waste pattern making. While the first practices are more commonly used, zero waste pattern making is something that has lately been gaining some attention. This technique fits all flat components of a clothing pattern into one piece of fabric like a jigsaw.

Fashion designers such as Timo Rissanen, Julian Roberts, Mark Liu and Holly McQuillan are heavily influencing zero waste design practices. They are experimenting with fabrics to develop new forms, fits and aesthetics without compromising style. Although zero waste design sounds like a new practice, it has been used in the past to create traditional garments like kimono and sari, or during war times to reduce the amount of scarce fabrics.

Twinset project by Holly McQuillan – Zero waste patterns


Upcycling is a technique which uses leftover fabrics and off-cuts to produce new clothing collections. This waste is usually generated during garment or fabric production and it includes leftover, surplus, faulty, off-cuts and unsold fabrics. Often the quantities of these textiles are too small to be used by large fashion companies. 

One of the first designers to upcycle pre-consumer fashion waste was Orsola de Castro. She collaborated with major fashion brands to reduce their social and environmental impact promoting and implementing this technique. 

3D Printing 

3D Printing technology is quickly improving and developing in the fashion industry. Nowadays, several companies are embracing this technique to reduce their social and environmental impact. Among other benefits, 3D Printing is able to reduce the waste created during production by printing custom made items. There are several printers available with different functionality and plenty of potential.

Header image courtesy of: Ethan Bodnar.
Zero-waste design images courtesy of: Holly McQuillan.
Data Source: “A New Textiles Economy Redesigning fashion’s future”- Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2017).

1 year ago