January 18, 2010

Zero waste: Clothing as puzzle

In the wake of H&M's and the NYPD's clothes shredding scandals, the current wave of zero waste clothing designers seems more prescient than ever. The concept behind a zero waste garment is that the pattern pieces fit together like a puzzle, so that they can be cut out of a rectangle of fabric with none of those odd-shaped pieces left over, as in Timo Rissanen's example here:

Designers experimenting with the technique come from all over: the New York avant garde, such as Yeohlee's Fall 2009 collection (left above); the mass market, with Adidas' SLVR eco-collection, which features a zero-waste T-shirt (center); London up-and-comer Mark Liu (right); and the Finnish-born Rissanen, who designs, teaches, and still finds time to follow the field on his excellent blog.

While zero waste is an ingenious method of saving fabric, it does require certain compromises in patternmaking. The simplest solution is to design extremely simple garments that are simply draped rectangles, à la the kimono; to create the fit using numerous darts and pleats, as in origami; or to cut seam allowances and hems in unexpected, decorative shapes. While I'm not convinced that including an extra bit of fabric in the actual garment is really an advantage over recycling the scrap and giving it new life as paper or insulation, my inner nerd is absolutely thrilled to see fashion and math meld together into some surprisingly fascinating and beautiful clothes.


Timo Rissanen said...

Hi Titania, and thanks for the post! Do you mind if I link from my blog?

You make a good point; all of the fabric in a zero-waste garment needs to considered aesthetically (as well as economically and in terms of feasibility/production, etc.) I would argue (and will in my thesis) that using it in the garment is always preferable to recycling (though not necessarily reuse). Recycling fabrics - even more so than paper & plastics - is a messy, resource-intensive (energy & water in particular) practice and the original function of fabric is usually lost in the process. And when fabric scraps are recycled into new fabric, very rarely is the resulting fabric of as high a quality as the original fabric. I agree that using textile waste to make paper or insulation is always better than landfill, but there are so many other sources of textile waste that using virgin fabric scraps seems... wasteful. But I should stop, I tend to go on about this until I'm blue in the face.

I very much appreciate the post and in particular the Adidas tee, which I wasn't aware of until now. Many thanks!

titania said...

Hi Timo! Thanks for the thoughtful commentary. While I cede your point that recycling can be wasteful in and of yourself, at the same time it's creating something useful (e.g. cotton paper) that otherwise might have been made from new material. Meanwhile, the fold of a dart (for example) is just hanging out on the inside of a garment, although when done well, it can certainly become an interesting part of the design.

Regardless, I think your work is fantastic, and I'd be flattered if you linked to my post.