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!
These are the patterns that make all the garments shown in the Void video below. Some make a single garment, some make 2.
While fashion appears to change constantly, this change is primarily superficial. Forms, lines and details are repeated ad nauseam, only occasionally revealing anything new. As a result consumers are bombarded with choices that all look the same. Boredom and the impulse to buy something new rapidly sets in, only for it to feel old as soon as it is worn. Can re-imagining the fashion design process disrupt this or is ‘Fashion’ all pervasive, infiltrating my hands and influencing every line I draw and every cut I make?
Void questions the conventional fashion design process that values 2D drawing and image over cutting and form, and explores what happens when fashion is designed from a ‘blank slate’. At its core the garment is a pliable space for our bodies to travel through that should fulfill individual needs for movement, modesty and expression. However, contemporary fashion is guided by profitability first, while trend forecasters, media and style-makers vet the choices offered, never showing the public what is really available or revealing the realities of the fashion production process. In Void, the contemporary fashion design process is reversed, dealing first with the whole cloth and corresponding 2D pattern and lastly with the body and 3D form, all with a goal of generating surprising but desirable garments that produce no waste. Each garment begins as a textile Tabula Rasa; drawn on, cut and formed to create a void for the body to inhabit. Referencing tradition within the confines of zero waste enables unexpected and spontaneous forms to emerge, exploring ideas of good design outside of the vagaries of ‘fashion’.
See it in person in the upcoming exhibition Evergreen at Object in Surry Hills, Sydney Australia.
This dress was designed as part of The Cutting Circle project and I’m refining it for an exhibition in Sydney early next year at Object. It is a similar approach to WAR / PEACE but with the letters forming all the lines needed. When I drew the first sketch I didn’t have much of a plan as to what the garment would look like and designed it almost entirely on the dressform and sewing machine. Usually I like to be more certain of the design before I cut. I was apprehensive but excited to see what might appear at the intersection between my hand, typography and chance. In the Cutting Circle demo I started to sew the garment up again from memory in a beautiful black silk tissue (dead stock) from the wonderful Global Fabrics. I’ve since been refining the pattern – the sleeve on one side was uncomfortable to wear and makes the dress twist around the body. Many of the features ‘discovered’ in the design process I really enjoy – such as the fold across the shoulders (done initially to improve the garment balance) and the interior ‘tunnels’ (to alter the skirt length) and draped pocket. The overall shape works well and the dress is fun to wear.
For me the biggest questions the design process of this dress raises is the play between risk/chance/serendipity and the controlling hand of the designer. The cut lines are controlled by the letters forming the work RISK – an approach which is undeniably risky. And i didn’t know what the garment would look like even once I had cut it out – what I didn’t know was that it would work. So what is my role as a deisgner? The decisions I made at every point; what shape the work took, which of the lines to cut and which to leave, where on the body I placed each piece, the fabric I used, the way I sewed the garment together, all lead to the final design – something that is both calculated and intuitive. And as such, a different person would come up with a different design from the same pieces.
The phrase “Go back to the drawing board” is something I rarely use. And its not because I don’t draw in the traditional sense of the word It’s because I don’t have a finished drawn design to test through a prototype as such. I design as I prototype – the process is conflated and non-linear. I ‘draw’ the pattern for a half conceived prototype, and resolve the pattern as I make the prototype – constantly receiving feedback from the materials I’m working with. It is a one step ‘design’ process with multiple feedback loops.
This is a selection of students graduating from the College of Creative Arts at Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand (where I am a lecturer). The work ranges from straight up commercial fashion to sustainable, experimental or historical explorations. If you want to attend the show you can purchase tickets from HERE or learn more by contacting me – Enjoy!
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
I’m very excited to be heading to New York for the first time on the 31st of August. Chris Jackson and me are going thanks to the Textile Arts Center (TAC) to install and open YIELD: Making Fashion Without Making Waste. It opens to the public on the 10th of September and runs until the 2nd of December so if you are in the NY area head to Brooklyn for some zero waste style! There are also two workshops – Timo Rissanen (co-curator and zero waste extraordinaire) and me are running one the weekend of the 10/11th sept and Timo is running another in November at the TAC incase you miss the one in September. I’m also heading to Kent State University in Ohio for a few days to speak with students there about my work that’s in Sustainable Fashion: Exploring the Paradox curated by Noel Palomo-Lovinski, I can’t wait!