I had my old desert boots re-soled last week. They are made by McKinlays of Dunedin in the South Island, New Zealand. I’ve owned them since about 2009 and wore them almost daily since I got them. I got them because they are made in NZ, the design is timeless and they are easily repaired. When I bought them, the sales woman said that the gum sole would last forever, and that the upper would perish before the soles. She was wrong, but they still lasted for many cold and wet Wellington winters and the hot tarmac of quite a few summers (I don’t really do sandals… So roast my way through NZ summer in the same shoes I wear in winter…). By the end of last winter the gum sole had wore right through to the midsole on the right shoe and almost through on the left. The leather upper toe box was crushed and worn out quite a bit due to my (now remedied) behaviour of pattern cutting on the floor on my knees (which also leads to holes in the knees of my jeans). In wet weather I got wet feet, so after a few weeks enduring this I pulled out an old pair of knee high boots, cut the calves off them and voila! Ankle boots! My desert boots spent some time chilling out at the back of my wardrobe, waiting for the motivation to re sole them, and last week I found it.
I took them to the Dixon St shoe repair and key cutters and the guy assured me he could repair them, but it would cost me $120. New desert boots (the same ones) I could get for $120 on sale maybe, or $220 full price. I momentarily tossed up the choice I had and then selected a new sole, super hard wearing, black, and was told I’d get a txt from them when they were done (it seems even shoe repairers have gone hi tech! Who knew?!). On Monday I went and got them back. They are almost like new. Better in some ways, the sole is much more hard wearing, and the shoe repair guy had rebuilt the toe box, polished the leather to a proud shine, and so these new feeling shoes looked tougher, aged, they have a life scratched into the leather. I know where they’ve been. They have a patina. I wear them knowing I’ve supported a local small business, these shoes get me from A to B, with dry feet, and in style but more than that, I walk with pride. A new pair of boots would have felt good, something like this, for a few days, the shiny new leather would have gleamed and shouted, “I’m New!”. But like all new things, this fades.
The lustre of skill and a deed well done, takes much longer to fade.
I’ve been asked to write a column for the wonderful folks at EcoSalon every 2 weeks. Next article will be available this Friday. It will going into a bit more detail regarding a number of Zero Waste fashion designers. Stay tuned!
It’s always a slightly painful experience to see your own work be shredded in this way, but a number of the arguments are totally valid and I agree with them whole heartedly – such as why destroy a perfectly functional second-hand garment to make an ugly hybrid. But that is just a matter of personal taste and everyone sees things differently.
I just want to answer a few of the criticisms
You think you invented this? Its been around for centuries!
I didn’t invent Zero Waste Fashion (not even sure where the name came from, its relatively new though). I’ve never claimed to do so. Timo Rissanen has never claimed it either. We both know the full and rich history of making clothes without making waste for the thousands of years that humans have done it – it is after all as old as throwing an animal hide over your shoulder to keep the rain off.
The biggest driver for me is that I strongly believe that the process isn’t refined enough for contemporary consumers yet because people historically didn’t push it forward as a design process. Historically the garments made without waste were made primarily as utilitarian garments. Embellishment may have been used to lift them above this (as is seen with Kimono and many other examples) but the fabric form itself was kept relatively simple. This may well be the best way to use Zero Waste – but we won’t know unless someone tries out the alternatives, and that’s what I’m doing. Additionally zero waste outcomes will only get better the more people do it – we have had 150 years of western style garment design and pattern cutting heading toward what we see and accept as normal these days. Zero Waste was largely forgotten about by western fashion for the last 200 years or so – with a few notable exceptions, Clare McCardell, Zandra Rhodes, Bernard Rudolfski etc. Zero Waste design has not until recently evolved in the same way current western garment design has, teaching people how to get started and showing some of what is possible is going to enable some evolution.
You could use the left-overs for other stuff
Yep that’s true – and I encourage people and companies to do so – Alabama Chanin is an excellent example of this in action, and for this reason Timo Rissanen and myself included Natalie Chanin in Yield: Making Fashion Without Making Waste.
As for me – I use a technique I call “embedding” (it’s just a name I give it to make it easier to talk about – I didn’t invent the process) to give the designer more control of more aspects of the design outcome from the start of the process rather than relying entirely on trial and error to come to the end result – this technique ends with one pattern, cutting multiple garments. The same process could easily be used to make a garment and a bag instead of two garments, or any combination of parts of garments/objects in order to make infinite variations and possibilities of fabric combinations and form.
The problem with using the left over pieces from traditional pattern cutting is that these pieces are randomly shaped, so might not work that well for what they are intended, they are often too small. That being the case with some trial and error it is entirely doable and a great way to use up scraps. Zero Waste pattern cutting designs the positive and negative space to make all pieces usable.
Its only high fashion/exclusive
The outcomes of zero waste fashion are entirely determined by the designer. In much of my work I am trying out a technique or approach to see if it offers anything new or solves a particular issue that I’ve encountered or that someone else has bought to my attention. Zero waste doesn’t need to make ‘high-fashion’ or ‘exclusive’ garments, indeed we already know how to make basic garments using zero waste – after all patterns for these have been around for centuries. Many people are working on variations of these (David Telfer, Julia Lumsden to name a couple), including myself, and I make and wear many versions in my every day life.
I’m trying to raise the profile of this technique, while simultaneously drawing people’s attention to the waste currently created through the standard fashion production process and we all know fashion loves a bit of a spectacle. A criticism I’d make of my work its that it isn’t spectacular enough for this. I think Iris Van Herpen‘s work does a great job of showing us whats possible for the future of the fashion industry through 3D printing. Is it accessible for the average clothing consumer? No. Does it look amazing and inspiring and make people talk about 3D printing? Yes.
The work I do is attempting to find new forms through an old technique. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel, I’m trying to satisfy some contemporary fashion consumers with an old process. You manipulate the process to the consumer – so if you don’t like what I come up with, you probably aren’t my target market.
Also while some of my work targets consumers, as a researcher some of it is effectively a test – I’m challenging myself to come up with a different way of doing things within the confines of Zero Waste Patterncutting. So aesthetic is not always the driving force. What you are looking at are probably best described as early 3D sketches – a work in progress.
WTF “Hyperbolic Tessellation”
The “Hyperbolic Tessellation” which was so strongly derided by a number of people in the post was an attempt to make garments that were modifiable – it is entirely experimental – so experimental in fact that it has only ever been pinned onto a half scale mannequin (never sewn up even) and put on the back burner until a number of aspects can be resolved. I stand by the general premise of it however, and will be working on it further in the near future. It is a work in progress. The name derives from the formula used to help generate it.
You use more fabric than is necessary
The garments I design use either less fabric or about the same as a standard garment design of that type. For example I designed a mens two piece suit which uses 140cm wide by 270cm long piece of cloth. Normally this might take at least 300cm of cloth depending on the design. This is true for the vast majority of my designs. Julia Lumsden made 18 mens shirts that use less fabric that a traditionally cut mens shirt for her Master of Design project, and they are all mens shirts which fit into a contemporary work or social environment.
You think it will save the world
Zero waste pattern cutting will not save the world. I’ve never said it would. It is merely one very small tool that can be used when it is necessary and appropriate and it DOES minimise material waste and/or use. Which has to be a good thing. I think we have forgotten that cloth is a finished product by the time we cut into it. Vast amounts of energy, resources and time have gone into its design and production. To thoughtlessly cut and throw it away seems idiotic to me. I do not believe every garment should be made this way – there are different solutions for every problem and a designer should have many solutions to the variety of problems which come up in any given design. Zero Waste is just another tool.
See here for a few more thoughts on related things
This is a responce to a comment on a post a collegue wrote about the possibilities of zero waste furniture, and a project that Chris Jackson and I are developing to see how my zero waste fashion practice might positively inform furniture design. I’ve posted the reply here because it was getting stupidly long as a comment… Original article is linked here
Hi Tom. Thanks so much for your comments about zero waste fashion and you bring up many valid points, which both Chris and I have been debating (arguing amicably) about for some time now. The kinds of comments you make are similar to those that Chris make to me, and its great to be challenged in this way.
However, there are a couple of things I’d like you to consider.
FASHION AND CLOTHING
For a start there is a difference between fashion and clothing that might be useful for this discussion – a differentiation that perhaps needs to be made for furniture also (perhaps there is and you can enlighten me!). Clothing is generally considered to be concerned with a garments function (both function and aesthetics are important but function comes first). Fashion is appealing first and functional second, and within fashion it is often argued that function is determined not by ergonomics or even fit, but the function of aesthetics and fashionable use. Despite this, both clothing and fashion still needs to hang on the body correctly, enable you to move through space, you need to be able to get into it – not just sit on it or look at it, all of these things are why fashion is made of soft things. Softness enables flexibility, but it also brings its own set of troubles. It is extremely difficult to control or predict exactly how it will behave and there are an infinite array of possible fabric types (which is part of why clothing has been the most difficult thing to accurately render via computer, and why CAD for fashion is about 10 years behind CAD for architecture or objects). Bodies come in vastly different shapes, meaning you need to be able to translate garments into different sizes while ensuring it remains economical to have to variations (something that is not at all perfected as it is so difficult to do). Soft fabrics are dictated to by gravity, you have limitations to form because of this, you cannot defy gravity with stiffness as easily as for furniture. Additionally as your body moves through space you need to be able to wear the same things from the start of your day to the end – unless you plan on bringing a full change of clothes with you for every possible situation you might encounter during the day. Furniture is quite static in comparison. What I am trying to say is that both Chris and yourself seem to occasionally over simplify the requirements and design of any type of garment. Both furniture and fashion have different limitations and advantages, all of which need to be considered when designing using zero waste as a goal.
MATERIAL YIELD, MEN AND FRIVOLOUS EXCESS
Almost all of the garments in Yield use less than or about equal to, the amount of fabric used to make that ‘type’ of garment under standard condition – so there is no ‘excessive’ use of fabric per se. The other is that while zero waste fashion is as old as clothes it was abandoned by fashion because the old way of doing it didn’t lead to the kind of ‘frivolity, embellishment or excess that people wanted out of a lot of fashion” Zero waste fashion was too minimal and simple, and most commonly used for underwear – the most utilitarian of garments. It has only been recently explored as a way of making clothing that is expressive in nature – yield aimed to show some of those examples (which is in some cases where you get frivolous decorations – people like that in clothing – and I’d argue that many people might like it in furniture as well if given the opportunity to buy it. Furniture is by and large designed by middle aged white men (gasp!). Frivolous decoration can be done extremely well, it isn’t in of itself a negative which you seem to be implying. Men in general don’t like frivolous embellishment so furniture hasn’t been as comfortable with it for many decades, Fashion on the other hand is quite happy to operate in that way when desired. That being said, personally I’m not a fan of embellishments. All the garments I design utilise the fabric as necessary to the final form within the standard material use for that garment type. The relationship between form and material use is intricately intertwined, and not at all ad hoc or an after thought. Additionally as I said originally zero waste fashion didn’t provide the degree of ‘frivolity’ desired by consumers and designers and was primarily used for underwear. Many of the designers in the show are very minimalist with their designs, David Telfer, Julia Lumsden, Yeohlee Teng, Caroline Priebe in particular all respond directly to the proposed markets and their markets desire minimalist garments (interestingly 2 of those are menswear designers, I wonder what that says about the repressed nature of much of contemporary menswear). Additionally Julian Roberts does not do embellishments, there are no left over’s each part is necessary for the final form, a form which is intentionally voluminous as within women’s fashion this is often desired.
VARIATION AND REPETITION
We know how to make a men’s shirt. We can make many of them, very quickly for low cost and they all look the same. Same goes for a hoody, a suit, jeans, t-shirt, just about any items of basic clothing that might fit your idea of pure or functional, the many different iterations of each of these garments types have been played out over hundreds of years many times faster than it has for furniture because simple fashion is simple and cheap to make, . And yet this doesn’t seem to satisfy us. I would argue that part of this is being a covetous human and another part is the sameness of clothing – from a form perspective fashion is often extremely restricted, and those that aren’t are considered ‘frivolous’ by people who look at fashion from the outside. We crave individuality while desiring to fit in, fashion has to deliver this in a format that becomes the first thing you see when you meet a person – you’re not looking at their dining furniture. The goal of zero waste fashion isn’t about making just those items you know and love, tshirt, hoody, jeans what ever – and making them using zero waste (although it is part of it and I’ve done my fair share) it is about discovering new forms, a new aesthetic for fashion, not just generating the same thing over and over again.
Applying this non-strict zero waste principle to furniture design would lead to unnecessarily heavy pieces for example.
I’ve got to say – No it wouldn’t – only if you did it badly, just as badly designed zero waste fashion is still just bad. I can’t help but feel it is an excuse. There are elegant solutions to many of the issues you bring up (IMO) given enough time and energy spent on working out what they might me. Solutions such as embedding multiple items in one sheet of material will minimise the ‘excess’ dramatically, giving greater control toward the final output. These kinds of processes and the ‘how do I do this’ stuff is related closely to your point about time. It only takes so much more time to develop because we aren’t taught how to do it. There isn’t a book or even a wise old man/woman somewhere that gives you ideas about little tricks you might use to interlock pieces on a sheet for maximum yield while enabling your design to work. We don’t have it much for fashion either – Zero waste in this format is in its infancy. The examples in the show are the beginnings of a change – not the end result of one. Any endeavour when you start out is hard.
THE ROLE OF THE DESIGNER
I found your comment about optimisations becoming “an exercise to preserve one’s style against the forces of the algorithm” and that this is a scary thing for designers really pertinent. Each of the designers in Yield are exercising their designerly prerogative. However there is definitely an element of risk inherent in any process that has boundaries outside of your control. But this can be where the most interesting work emerges.
There is a bunch of other stuff I could mention but this reply is getting far too long as it is. I’m sure that the first time someone attempted to make something using rotational moulding it took them a really friggen long time to work it out and it took ages to produce something that ‘worked’, and now it’s a standard practice. I’m not saying zero waste fashion or furniture will ever necessarily be that straight forward but given the relative amount of energy put into developing solutions for zero waste vs other processes I think we’re doing well so far.
This whole discussion has really got me thinking (and got my hackles up I’m sure you can tell!) – but I think it is such an important conversation for any designer to be having, whether zero waste or not.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about risk and the design process. In particular how much in fashion design and business the goal is to minimize risk – we often explore and commit only to the sure thing. I wrote about it briefly in a paper i presented last week at the IFFTI 2010 conference on Sustainable Fashion in regards to copying and the fashion cycle. I feel that copying or referencing is a method for minimizing risk and through this copying, design (in particular fashion design) becomes derivative and drives the cycle of novelty – consumption – boredom – novelty which dominates the fashion world. Through the fashion cycle, aesthetics become risk free. Risk requires more of the soul of a designer, it requires more sweat and worry. But risky design and leaps of faith are what create truly exciting and innovative ideas. Risk can change the world not just regurgitate it.
Risk also requires more time, and we need to take more time when we design. We need time to put other things first ahead of aesthetics, and what that first thing might be is up to each designer. For myself i put the environment first, for someone else it might community or fair trade, for others it might be animal cruelty, and for yet another it could be freedom of expression. Putting the aesthetics and trends of fashion first has lead us to an industry which pollutes the environment, exploits communities, workforces and animals and promotes ideals of beauty which for most are unattainable.
That is not to say we should disregard aesthetics, indeed the aesthetics of things cannot be ignored even if we tried. As when people purchase anything they own it with their eyes first. But designing only for the look of something gives nothing back to our world except a beautiful thing that is empty and will eventually reveal it’s empty-ness and make the owner feel empty in their consumption of that beautiful thing. So they go buy another to fill up.
So… Risk… Ignore trends for a bit. Ignore how it looks for a little while. Don’t think about Cool. Design something which puts the important stuff first. Then make it beautiful so we can buy real beautiful things instead of empty beautiful things. It would be a start at least.
Here are my fixed elbows! I decided to go for the classic leather patch but with contrast thread to draw attention to the mend (and my bad bad stitching!). Such a feeling of accomplishment!
I used a Buttonhole stitch to sew left over leather i had laying around from when i was a student.
I love these old illustrations of stitching/sewing. My mum gave me a pocket Vogue sewing book from the late 1940’s a few years ago that i use all the time.
About 6 years ago i pretty much stopped buying new clothes. Well almost – i bought the odd merino thermal to protect me from Wellingtons damp and cold winters – and i bought 2 pairs of jeans, a couple of dresses suitable for ‘maternity me’ and… hmm some underwear and 2 pairs of shoes. Apart from those, everything i have worn for about 6 years is either something that i already owned, something i (rarely) made from fabric i already had (quite the stash), or a hand-me-down from friends. This wasn’t the result of a conscious decision to change my behavior – i really just found it increasingly difficult to go through with the action of buying clothes. I would go shopping with the intention of buying something i genuinely needed but come back empty handed. The moment of exchanging money for goods became loaded with meaning – such as “I am exchanging money to pay for something i am able but unwilling to do myself, and the persom who did labor over this garment was paid far far less than I would be happy to accept for the same job. So I regularly peruse the magical interweb drooling over beautiful garments i LOVE but couldn’t justify buying because of ethical or financial reasons. And the garments i found that fit both budget and ethics were.. um… not my thing. I have a job that requires me to be at least semi-respectably dressed. So I think i need to do something aside from treading fashionable water…
I will mend. Conspicuously.
I own clothing with so many holes etc that it is getting a bit silly. The two Merino thermals i mentioned earlier have holes in the elbows so large that i often accidentally put my forearms through there instead of where they are supposed to go… I tell myself that these garments are never seen so it doesn’t matter – they still keep me warm. Maybe my students think I’m going for a hobo-chic kind of look? I haven’t mended much yet even though I know how. I’ve fixed hems and resewn buttons (though some buttons are held on with a sneaky safety pin), but i haven’t attempted to repair worn through elbows etc. So that will be step one.
I will wear my own designs. Zero-waste ones.
It probably seems strange but i don’t wear my designs – primarily because the pieces ive made to perfection and completion seem to have become for display purposes only – my husband tells me off when i wear them, and i take them off before i leave the house. They just hang in my wardrobe taunting me. The Wolf / Sheep one is going to be in an exhibition in a couple of months so i shouldn’t wear that (as much as i want to)… But what use are my ideas if I don’t (or someone else) wear them? So I’m going to make one new design per fortnight for myself until i’ve filled the rather large gaps in my wardrobe. Things i will wear all the time. A sort of field testing of the work I do. So. I will wear my own designs.
So pretty simple to start with really. I can’t help fearing that perhaps i’m only doing this to fit some sort of expectation of acceptable fashionable dress – that my clothes and wardrobe as they are are totally sufficient and all that is occurring is that I’m getting sucked back into the fashion consumption void… Hmm
First mending project below. This WORLD (NZ) Jacket has been part of my ‘uniform’ for many years now. Super holey elbows. Wish me luck.