Here’s the bleak reality. Even in the most optimistic scenarios, the fashion industry generates roughly 40 billion square meters of leftover textiles per year. (If you’re trying to figure out the math, that’s about 17,500 square miles – enough to cover the entire state of Maryland. Yikes.)
Unfortunately, the textile waste problem is difficult to track and nearly impossible to enforce.
For instance, New York City does have a law that requires manufacturers who generate over 10% of textile waste to recycle rather than throw away their excess fabric. But, here’s the problem. The manufacturers aren’t required to report their waste stats or prove whether or not they recycle.
In fact, many manufacturers even go a step further and hire private companies to collect their garbage so that they can just keep everything under-the-table. So, there’s that.
But, it’s not all gloom and doom. Thankfully, there are forward-thinking brands that are implementing new solutions that address the problem of textile waste. It’s a concept called Zero Waste Fashion.
What is Zero Waste Fashion?Zero Waste Fashion is a new way of thinking that forces fashion designers to challenge existing techniques that are destroying our environment. At its core, it’s a way of designing garments that create minimal textile waste during the production process.
It’s generally divided into two separate categories. The first category is called “creative design” which eliminates waste during manufacturing. The second category is called “upcycling” which is about creating garments from discarded remnants.
Let's Talk About Creative Design“Creative design,” or, “zero waste pattern making,” refers to the practice of creating clothing patterns that will generate minimal fabric waste. The practice is being adopted by savvy designers who are using various techniques, materials, and technologies to achieve the perfect zero-waste garment.
Technique-wise, it involves fitting all the pieces of the clothing pattern together, much like a jigsaw puzzle, so that no fabric is wasted. And considering that roughly 21% percent of fabric is discarded when a typical garment is made, the cumulative effect of leaving behind no waste has far-reaching environmental consequences.
In addition, creative design involves working within these constraints to create innovative new forms of fashion.
How About Upcycling?Upcycling involves using pre-existing clothing, accessories, or other discarded items and redesigning them into new garments.
For instance, a second-hand cotton sweater could be refashioned into a new pair of pants. Or, plastic bottles could be recycled into swimsuits. (Yes, that’s actually a thing!)
Hope for a Zero-Waste FutureWhen you think about it, the concept of zero waste isn’t new. There have been countless times throughout history that consumers adopted similar practices. For instance, during times of war, people refashioned old clothes into new ones. Or, back in the day when your parents added that extra cuff of lace to the bottom of your jeans to make them last longer.
The difference is that nowadays, there are more and more manufacturers, designers, and brands who want to make better choices for our environment.
And there are more and more consumers who want to support those brands.
At the end of the day, it’s a win-win for everyone.