Trash to Treasure: The Low Down on Zero Waste Fashion

Trash to Treasure: The Low Down on Zero Waste Fashion

Trash to Treasure: The Low Down on Zero Waste Fashion

There are a lot us embracing the Zero Waste lifestyle these days; giving up disposable coffee cups and saying no to plastic straws, so are you thinking what I am thinking?’s time for the fashion industry to embrace Zero Waste!  Currently there are only a limited number of designers implementing Zero Waste initiatives and their practices can generally be broken down into two ideas; using pre or post-consumer waste and Zero Waste pattern making.

Pre and Post-Consumer Waste:

Pre-consumer waste is the offcuts, discarded during production - so think of all the pieces that are left behind after cutting out a pattern.  According to Fashion Revolution approximately 15% of all textiles go to waste after the fabric is cut. That equates to 60 million m2 of textiles ends up on the cutting room floor. This also includes the garments that didn’t make it past quality control and the rolls of unused fabric (especially recognisable prints or branding) that regularly end up in landfills were it might take centuries to decompose or are incinerated. However labels such as The Travelling Kimono are using their offcuts to produce children’s clothing that reduce fashion waste! Now we have pre-consumer waste covered let's talk post-consumer.


Post-consumer waste are all the garments we take to charity stores that are not in a sellable condition. These garments can be upcycled into new creations or downcycled into insulation, blankets or industrial rags. However more research is needed into recycling fabrics as currently only 1% of textiles are recycled back into textiles that would be suitable for clothing.

While using our recycled clothing or every shred of fabric is undoubtedly committing to Zero Waste another way designers can combat the issue is by minimising waste at the design and pattern making phase.



Zero Waste Pattern Making:

Zero Waste pattern making utilises the entire piece of fabric to minimise or completely eliminate negative space within a pattern.  A pioneer in Zero Waste pattern making is Timo Rissanen the Assistant Professor of Fashion Design and Sustainability at Parsons School of Design in New York.  In a podcast interview with Clare Press, Rissanen discusses the challenges of making clothing that is functional and aesthetically pleasing while creating minimal waste.  However this is just one of the challenges in converting designers, Rissanen believes that there is very little financial incentive for designers to change their current practices.  Therefore it would appear that choosing Zero Waste is the designers personal choice and inline with their ethics. But with around 80% of a product’s environmental impact locked in at design stage converting designers to change their current practices is imperative.  While Zero Waste pattern making requires a complete overhaul from current practices it’s contribution to a more sustainable and closed loop supply chain is evident.



Creating a Circular Economy:

These innovative ideas of combating waste in the fashion industry contribute to a Circular Economy; which is a method described by BoF that ensures garments can be recycled or reused instead of ending up in landfills.


With the fashion industry creating approximately 92 million tons of textile waste every year this really puts into perspective how much waste is being produced and how important this issue is. Therefore as we commit to being more Zero Waste in our everyday lives we need to also consider if the clothing we’re buying is supporting a sustainable fashion industry or just creating more waste.

Written by Cecilia Jean Ingram

Cecilia Jean is a lover of sustainable and vintage fashion. After studying fashion and learning how destructive the fashion industry really is she made a personal

pledge to shop sustainably and support a more ethical fashion industry. Follow

her sustainable fashion journey

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Great informative article Cecilia. While I’ve made a conscious effort to be mindful of where my old clothes end up (and try to donate rather than dump) I’ve never even considered the waste associated with the production of the clothes I wear. It’s definitely something I’ll consider from now on.

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