All you need to know about Zero Waste Design concept

by Nitish Varshney

26-July-2018  |  9 mins read

Zero Waste Design
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Hardly a few would know that around 400 billion square metre of fabric is produced each year around the world and about 60 billion square metre of fabric is wasted during the cutting process which represents the 15 per cent of the world’s fabric production. A majority of this waste ends up in landfills mostly in the Asian countries which are known as the apparel manufacturing powerhouses. One reason of this waste is inability of the companies to optimise the design process.

To cater to this challenge, garment companies are installing automatic placement software that allows them to optimise the material by testing all possible nesting combinations in less time. With the help of these softwares, the companies manage to save a small percentage of fabric during cutting process; however, this process can be called ‘economic’ than ‘environmental’.

Some garment factories have controlled their fabric waste to 3 to 4 per cent while some are still at 15 per cent which is a result of the inappropriate use of curves in pattern design. Since cutting and manufacturing are often outsourced to developing countries, western designers are only rarely confronted with waste management generated by their own collections. They then work with a presupposition that the dimensional constraint of the material and the interweaving of the pieces on the fabric are secondary problems.

This leads the idea of Zero Waste Design…

Realising that a lot can be done to reduce the fabric waste by optimising the design process, a France-based 3D Fashion and Virtual Prototyping specialist Mylène L’Orguilloux recently worked on a project named Milan AV-JC which created patterns through Zero Waste design. This process can be called quite innovative as it reconsiders the way garments are conventionally developed. Instead of having a linear development process such as designer > pattern maker > pattern grader > optimiser (nesting), Mylène implemented a sheer collaboration between workers. Theme of the design is to match concave curved parts with convex ones. This way optimisation is integrated from the very first step of the process, and anytime a design decision is taken, the impact on fabric consumption is simultaneously analysed.

In a zero-waste pattern, the curves used are conceived in such a way that once the elements of the pattern are placed on the fabric, they overlap with each other and cover all the fabric without generating waste. Unlike a traditional pattern, where the pieces are often handled independently, the Zero Waste pattern is geometrically represented as a rectangular block, representing the surface of the fabric (width x length). Each pattern is then created by drawing internal cutting lines. As all the elements are made of the same elements, this allows better strategic design decisions. Decreasing waste from 15 per cent to 0 per cent does not automatically mean that the total length also decreases. It really depends on how it has been thought while developing the design idea.

Zero Waste Design
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“We call it ‘Zero Waste Fashion Design’ philosophy. It’s all about designing with pattern shapes, rather than creating patterns for designs. In the last few years, this philosophy has been studied by many academics but more recently brands like COS or Skunkfunk have initiated an industrial implementation through zero/minimal waste capsule collections so it’s now getting further exposed. However, many companies still ignore that we can proceed differently,” said Mylène to Apparel Resources.

She further adds that her goal is to demonstrate how 3D prototyping tools can help the garment industry reduce fabric wastage. “This is a real design thinking process which combines sustainability mindset + technology assets. The software which we use is Clo3d. Though it is not specialised in Zero Waste Fashion Design but the flexibility and accuracy of this CAD system enabled me to work around conventional functions and apply my own process,” avers Mylène.

Advantages of Zero Waste Design (ZWD) concept…

In addition to the obvious ecological interest that ZWD philosophy highlights, there are other significant benefits too.

    A) In the conventional design, the edges of tighter weave fabric are systematically discarded because of being different from the central weave. On the contrary, the selvedges can be fully integrated into the garment, either by incorporating them into sewing values or by deliberately using their ‘different’ visual appearance as a style element in the Zero Waste approach.
    B) In the past, margins of 1.5 cm to 2.5 cm were added inside the garment, while the margins are just 1 cm or sometimes reduced to 0.7 cm too. So, seams of the garment fray and crack after a few washes and this can be strongly stated that the clothes have lost sewing value to a very much extent over the years. With such small sewing values, retouching and repairing these garments also becomes complicated. ZWD philosophy uses the wide stitching values as it used to be, not only to cover the entire surface of the fabric but also to make the garment flexible and durable.
    C) Moreover, the interweaving of the elements of patronage on the fabric generates the mutualisation of the cut-lines and consequently the reduction of cutting time itself.
    D) In zero waste design, there is no need to pass the cutter blade twice in the same area.

There are barriers too…

To create a design by taking into account all aspects and technical constraints that a stylistic detail can have as an impact on the rest of the production process is the most efficient and intelligent way of creation. Such an exchange is also the opportunity to bring out new design dynamics in terms of volume, shapes and styles. However, there are a few barriers that restrict the textile industry to opt for this approach.

According to Mylène, the first barrier is the ‘inviolable’ pattern template system, from which most of the garments are developed. Inherited from made-to-measure techniques, these patterns could be considered as part of the fashion legacy and it would be inappropriate to reconsider them. They have been used to develop CAD systems adapted to those practices.

The second barrier is the segmentation of roles. The design is often dispatched in different places, different regions, and different countries which considerably alters communication and collaboration. Each person therefore has a very limited vision of the overall design process and almost zero waste awareness. Even CAD system producers have developed a specific software for one specific job only, which makes it very difficult to implement.

The third barrier where everything can be played out is education. Fashion schools, literature and media unconditionally add to the wrong myths that the designer starts cultivating. Instead of marking out zero waste design in the initial stages, the designer first takes the conventional route and much later tries to incorporate the ZWD, which is a futile practice.

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