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.
Zandra Rhodes studied printed textile design at The Royal College of Art in London. In 1969, she took her collection to New York where it was featured in American Vogue. Zandra was UK Designer of the Year in 1972 and by 1975 founded her own shop in London. Her clothes were soon worn by the rich and famous including Jackie Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor, Freddie Mercury and Diana, Princess of Wales. Awarded nine Honorary Doctorates and a CBE from Queen Elizabeth II, Zandra has been institutional in setting up London’s Fashion and Textile Museum. Today, she continues to clothe the rich and famous with collections sold around the world. Zandra also designs sets and costumes for opera as well as licensing her name for various products.
The piece shown in YIELD: Making fashion without making waste is titled Chinese Squares. It is a beautiful example of a textile leading the garment design, with the pattern being cut around the hand painted square motif so as to not disrupt the painted lines and form.
The resulting garment is both simple – being constructed essentially from a series of squares, and complex – with open pleated sleeves and an ornate print. It wraps around the form of the body without side-seams and hangs languidly in silk crepe de chine. The pattern for Chinese Squares is very close to zero waste, however the selvedges appear to have been removed. The design references historical ‘square-cut’ garments in particular the way the sleeve/body is arranged. Pieces removed for fit around the neckline and waist are reinserted to form the wrap-around mechanism at the waist.
The garment looks timeless in person, although it was made in 1980, and is in almost pristine condition. The garment was generously loaned to The Dowse Art Museum by The San Diego History Centre for YIELD and it was donated to them by Lucretia G. Morrow. It is part of the Chinese Collection from Spring/Summer 1980 and other examples of how the same print was used by Zandra can be seen below.
Zandra Rhodes work in YIELD acts as an anchor, as although it is not the earliest example of zero-waste fashion it remains eminently accessible and beautiful despite being made over 30 years ago and the respect for cloth evident in all her work is plain for all to see.
My Great Grandfather came to New Zealand in the late 1800’s from England via America. He was a single man with family back in England. Like many men of the day he wrote letters to his mother and siblings about his experiences in New Zealand. At the time New Zealand was largely unoccupied. Large areas of New Zealand were still unexplored and there was intermitted outbreaks of war and violence between the colonialists and Maori. In the 1870’s Albert bought an isolated piece of land in what came to be known as the Taranaki Province and he began to clear it of the dense and almost impenetrable ‘bush’ that covered most of New Zealand at the time. In one of his letters to his mother he describes the process used to clear the land of trees and vegetation. A process known as “Slash and Burn” – a process still used today in many parts of the world. Essentially some of the large and useful trees are cut down and used for timber or firewood if needed and what is left is hacked at and then burned off to make way for pasture or crops. He wrote of the sight it left behind.
It is a fearful sight I think.
Great trees blackened and split with the fire, rearing their heads up so gaunt and bare and those that have fallen laying about the ground in such a jumble you cannot conceive.
To look from the clearing to the bush is a contrast, in the bush the tree palms, and all the other things green and beautiful and then the clearing, you can see the hand of man and the march of civilisation.
I will never forget the first time I read his letters, there are hundreds of them, many merely a banal and everyday record of his life in colonial New Zealand. But at times the beautiful isolation of the land and its violent destruction at his hands clearly effected him. I like to think of him as the first environmentalist in my family – although i guess there may have been more before him. He had many children, was widowed and married again, his son (George) was my grandfather and he farmed the land after him, as did my father Ronald after him and now my sister Kama keeps watch. Albert left one piece of bush standing on our farm, it still stands today. My connection to the land is blood deep, bone deep. I am not separate from the land I am of the land. Nature is not another, I am natural.