After the recently concluded European Union elections, the Independent National Information Centre on Waste (CNIID), launched a campaign called "zero waste France" to bring to the attention of political parties to reduce waste and landfill and make France a zero residual waste target by 2025. Such is the magnanimity of waste being created and understanding the gravity of such an issue requires strict actions to be taken to reduce, reuse and recycle.

A mammoth of waste contributed by the apparel and garment companies all around the world goes to the landfill. In a time where sustainable and organic textiles and clothes are being produced, finding a solution to make garments without causing much waste is extremely inevitable. Zero waste design is a technique to create a garment in a sustainable way. It is an arduous effort made by designers and patternmakers in a universal approach to making garments that consider both, the aesthetics and the functions.

Unlike latest technologies being introduced in the clothing industry for sustainable fashion, zero waste technique is a complete change in the traditional pattern making process. Zero waste techniques have been used earlier for making garments like Kimonos, Saris, Chiton, and other folk costumes. These traditional clothes make use of the concept of utilization of the whole width of a fabric. Hence contrary to conventional garment manufacturing units, where twenty percent of the fabric is wasted by scraps and the negative spaces created for pattern pieces, zero waste clothes are designed by using technically advanced methods of pattern making, in order to use a fabric from selvedge to selvedge.


At present there are many approaches and techniques of zero waste design which include draping, pattern cutting, and knitting. With the advent of slow fashion and rise in the demand for clothing created sustainably and ethically, there are many designers who have ventured into the art of creating garments with minimal waste. Zandra Rhodes, Shreya and Siddhartha Upadhyaya, Holly McQuillan, Tara St James, Julian Roberts, Timo Rissanen, and Mark Liu are some designers who have changed the periphery of fashion with an innovative approach to zero waste design.

The zero waste design does not conform itself to the grain lines of the conventional pattern making style since designing by drawing can be difficult. In some cases like while using the jigsaw puzzle technique, a designer is required to cut pieces and join them aesthetically, where as in others, working on a design directly without a pattern or using different draping techniques are used. Since zero waste designing of apparel is about minimizing waste, the designing and sourcing process go hand in hand. An understanding of textile and design dimensions prior to work is essential.

The pattern cutting of garments in a way to create less or no waste make use of techniques like jigsaw puzzle, subtraction cutting, direct panel on Loom (DPOL), Geo cut, and cut and drape. Creating a pattern for a garment design with zero waste requires using the width of the fabric, calculating the length, and then starts placing the different pieces to make a styled garment. This technique is referred to as the jigsaw puzzle technique.

Subtraction cutting is another innovative technique wherein the patterns that are cut do represent the garments outward shape. In fact the negative spaces of the garment which are shaped holes cut from sheets of cloth along which the body moves represent the negative spaces instead of the positive ones. Complex geometries are used in this method for creating a zero waste design.

The Direct panel on Loom (DPOL) is a technique using a computer attached loom that helps weaving made to measure garment sections. The segmented pieces of the clothing are sewn together by hand. No fabric is wasted in the process and moreover the method is believed to decrease the usage of yarn, dyes, chemicals, and a reduced lead time of fifty percent. It also has a huge environmental benefit since it can save seventy to eighty percent of water in comparison to other garment manufacturing methods used commercially.

Experts of zero waste design believe that the cut and sew production of all kinds will diminish in the next thirty years to come. Technologies like 3D knitting and 3D printing and techniques like zero waste design will pave way for sustainable fashion in the apparel and garment industry. Many textile and apparel institutes around the world have already begun offering zero waste design as a fully operational course. However, currently this technique cannot be implemented in large manufacturing units due to added expense of training labour and changing the dynamics of a traditional pattern making set-up and fabric widths can increase expenses. There are efforts being made at the Parsons New York for large production of jeans using zero waste design.

With the importance of sustainability growing by and large across apparel manufacturers and the textile industry, the concept of zero waste design, needs to progress from individual designers to mass markets and towards commercialization to change the way textiles are being used and building positive environmental results.