Zero waste fashion

June 2012

  • Christopher Sanders

Zero waste fashion design intersects financial and environmental goals through hi-tech pattern making techniques that use every scrap of fabric.

In commercial factories, when garments are produced, around 20 percent of fabric is wasted through scraps and negative spaces around pattern pieces. Zero Waste designers are using technical and conceptual advances in pattern making, producing garments that use all of the fabric, selvedge to selvedge. This construction technique saves the fabric waste usually sent to landfill, reducing significant costs associated with dumping.

At first Zero Waste aesthetic is challenging but through the application by avant-garde designers there is a growing range of approaches that push zero waste in exciting new directions.
Australia and New Zealand have been leading the world in Zero Waste concepts, producing and exporting some of the best Zero Waste international designers. In the vanguard, Holly McQuillan from Wellington has created some of the most advanced practices, generating global interest. McQuillan’s work explores a zero-waste approach that is simultaneously wearable, artistic and ethical. McQuillan has exhibited her work at leading international forums including International Foundation of Fashion Technology Institute, ‘YIELD – Making Fashion without Making Waste’ and the Seoul Fashion Art Biennale 2010. Her practice is embedded in the exploration of the female form, resulting in feminine texturing and silhouettes, also extending into men’s wear. McQuillan has been a champion of developing community around Zero Waste design, spending precious spare moments collaborating with contemporary designers on garments, exhibitions and books.  The Adelaide Review spoke to her about the myriad new projects on her radar.

You have been integral to the development of zero waste. In your eyes, how has the concept developed?
Apart from its important and rather long standing place in the history of clothing, it seems that the contemporary zero waste movement has sort of spontaneously and simultaneously emerged in a range of places. I’m really not sure why. Part of it may be the return to craft and respect for hand based skills, coupled with the general interest in mathematics and geometry that was beginning to appear in the early 2000s, and the growing sustainability movement at that time. Since it emerged in a contemporary context, the aesthetics possible have become more sophisticated, although as with any emerging approach it takes time to develop a fuller set of potential techniques useful for makers of modern fashion. It’s at a stage now where companies are starting to see its potential, more people are interested in it, more people know about it. It is exciting.

How is zero waste making the fashion industry more sustainable?
It is part of the realisation that sustainable fashion can’t just be about using organic materials. Thankfully most designers know this and are looking at the variety of ways we can do things better.

It also importantly puts focus on the way we separate making from design. Fashion is unusual in such a large global industry to still rely so heavily on human hands for its production. But despite this, or perhaps because of this, the distance between fashion designers and makers is vast. Many designers don’t make: don’t have the experience of making the garments they design. This creates a disconnect which has allowed a range of issues to emerge for example, speed, copying, labour issues, use of toxic processes etc. Because you have to make to design a zero waste garment during the pattern making process the link is more authentic and any issues have to be dealt with by the designer themselves and at an early stage. Zero waste fashion requires a different way of doing things. This will either be its saviour or its nemesis.

Does zero waste design have implications outside of fashion?
Architects are often fascinated by my patterns; I think they see architectural plans and ideas of form in them. It certainly makes other design disciplines think harder. For textile design I think it is a breath of fresh air, the knowledge that a textile is a finished, design product with energy invested in its production and design inherent to zero waste fashion. It elevates the textile even further. Any design industry that uses sheet material can see the potential, and the pitfalls of it. Industrial design in particular is an area I’m interested in, zero waste furniture has huge potential and it really excites me.

Zero waste design has been extremely innovative on the periphery of fashion. Do you see it becoming part of the fashion production mainstream in the future?
Part of me feels that cut and sew production of all kinds will diminish over the next 30 years. We will see new technologies emerge which might make zero waste (and all cut and sew production) redundant. 3D printing, 3D knitting and other technologies will transform fashion production which, after all, has barely changed in the last hundred years.

What is the imperative for zero waste design?
To see its transition into industry in a wider sense. This means both further education so graduates have skills to implement zero waste in industry and working with industry partners to get things underway. A wider range of aesthetics will develop as more people push the peripheries of this approach, so as all these things come together over the next five to 10 years I hope to see more and more of it in designers’ collections.

I also think there needs to be a key industry player to champion it for a collection. Once you can ‘prove’ zero waste fashion as a successful concept, doable by a large scale manufacturer, in an appealing way, then it will pave the way for others to put it into practice. 





Latest Edition

April Issue
April Issue
March Issue
March Issue
February Issue
February Issue


52 Tuesdays