Eco-aware fashionistas already know that cotton is a singularly un-green & spectacularly wasteful crop, requiring more pesticides than almost any other crop and over 400 gallons of water to grow enough cotton to produce but a single t-shirt. Similarly, they embrace dying methods that use no water (like the Air Dry Dye method popularized by alottosay tees), non-chemical plant-based dyes, and silkscreening that relies on soy inks which produce no toxic byproducts.
However, here are a few new innovations in clothing production that you might not yet be familiar with:
Zero Waste Clothing Although garment factories place pattern pieces as closely together as possible, an average of 15% of the fabric used in the production of clothing is still discarded as scraps. The Zero Waste movement is attempting to reduce this percentage to nothing by constructing garments with pattern pieces that interlock, like a giant jigsaw – using any fabric that does end up on the cutting room floor as trim and for embellishments. Although it might seem counter-intuitive, clothing made this way is not ill-fitting nor strangely shaped; it is, however, cheaper to manufacture and to cut. Practiced by current Parsons instructor Timo Rissanen, the Zero Waste movement in the fashion industry is spearheaded by former Rissanen student Mark Liu, the winner of the Ethical Fashion Forum’s Innovation Award. By creating garments via the Zero Waste principle, these innovators are proving that fashion and eco-sustainability are no longer mutually exclusive concepts.
“Production” on Demand Lengthy wait-lists for the overpriced “it” item of the moment tend to get the most press, but the truth is that the fashion world is actually plagued by over-production. Design houses order countless garments from factories and typically, they don’t sell out completely; because there’s just not enough demand, remaining items move to discount stores, off-price stores, and eventually overseas. To counteract this excess of merch flooding the marketplace, New York-based clothing line SANSdownloadable patterns from their line for $6 to $20 apiece – to make yourself or take to a tailor – giving consumers the option of making an item on demand. By producing it yourself locally, the carbon footprint is smaller, the cost cheaper, and the item less likely to be tossed out. “When you have a piece that you made yourself, you relate to it differently. You value it differently,” notes Lika Volkova, designer of SANS. For a good selection of downloadable patterns, try BurdaStyle.com, one of the largest online sources of free and affordable patterns (their most expensive is $7.50). Even the most “overpriced” patterns (hello Vogue patterns at $18 each!) are still a relative steal: add a yard or three of fabric, (designer tip: buy fabric in odd numbers – 1, 3 or 5 yards for items like a top, skirt/pants, or suit respectively), plus your time – and you’ll end up with a finished price for around $30-$50. And should you decide to splurge on really opulent & pricey designer fabric – you’ll still enjoy a much higher quality, better fitting garment or outfit for much, much less. has begun offering
Eco-Friendly Fastenings Most of us give little thought to the snaps, grommets, hooks, zippers and plastic or metal buttons that fasten our clothing…and eventually find their way into landfills. One solution is to purchase clothing made with no metal fastenings, such as wrap shirts, kimono-style jackets, tops with frog closures, ribbons, or stretchy jersey. For woven sheath dresses or more structured items, look for either the Natulon zipper from YKK, made from recycled PET polyester, or their biodegradable ReEarth zipper made from corn and other plant materials. Both are considered eco-friendly and low-impact, as are buttons and fastenings made from natural materials such as wood, bamboo, and nuts. Find them at eco-friendly retailers like Fashion-Conscience.com and The Green Loop.
Designed by You to Last The trouble with “fast” fashion is that it’s cheap and disposable; when we consider how little we paid for something along with the fact we no longer wear it – we simply get rid of it. However, if your closet was filled with pieces that you helped design – choosing everything from fabrics, to silhouette, to trim – it would be a lot less likely to get tossed. At StyleShake, for as little as $78, you can design and customize your own dress, and receive your made-to-order piece in about 2 weeks. For younger fashionistas, FashionPlaytes lets girls design everything from hoodies to leggings to bags using their own graphics or elements from the site. Alternatively, est.Today, Zazzle & CafePress are all great resources for customizing tees, tracksuits, aprons, and even housewares (clocks, mugs, tiles, cards, ornaments).
UpCyling What Already Exists One of the easiest ways to be fashionably eco is by not buying anything new. New products require raw materials which, no matter how sustainable or green, require some mix of energy, water, and human labor to produce. Refashioning what already exists is as eco chic as can be…starting with your own closet. To get some great ideas and tutorials on how to revamp what you already have, check out ThreadBanger.com, Craftster.org, and CutOutandKeep.net. The best part of DIY? It puts your stamp where it belongs: on your things instead the environment.
The More You Know Info is power, especially with respect to eco-friendly issues. Some of our fave go-to sources include Green Grechen, EcoStiletto, the GirlieGirl Army, Eco Fashion World, White Apricot, and Ecouterre – all of which will keep your look – and outlook – fashionably sustainable.
(image at top)
As written for FashionTribes.com
I love Threadbanger;) and thanks for sharing.
thanks for sharing! i actually didn't know that much about it. I have a friend who's really gotten into organic/green/etc production methods, so I'll definitely share this post with her 🙂
i love the eco fashion! Here's some of my eco fashion!
This was great! Especially your coverage about Zero Waste Clothing!
Thank you for the kind mention! I very much appreciate it. Just a slight correction: I've not worked with Mark since teaching him in 2003 (he graduated from UTS in 2004; we occasionally keep in touch but I've been too slack there) or Caroline. I am, however, meeting Caroline for the first time tomorrow and very much looking forward to it. I think she'll tell you her work to date hasn't been zero-waste; her approach to sustainability covers, however, a number of other areas.
Oh and as of last week, I work for Parsons The New School for Design in New York; this is a very recent and a very exciting change.
I hope this doesn't make me seem ungrateful for the mention because I am grateful – thank you! Best always to set the record straight, I think, so many people making all sorts of claims.
Fantastic blog, I'll definitely be coming back. Would you mind if I link here?
Thanks Timo, for stopping by! Sorry about the mistakes in the article – sometimes the internet isn't always the best research tool.:-) I'll fix my post and forward the info on to my editor at FashionTribes, where my article originally appeared.
Congratulations on your new position at Parsons! That's fabulous! So does that mean you might appear on a future episode of Project Runway?;-)
Linking is always appreciated! Thank you so much for your feedback – and I truly love your work with the Zero Waste approach to design – I'm currently trying my hand at making a Zero-Waste mini-dress…we'll see how that goes!:-)
Best of luck to you!
No problem, ♥TeE♥! Threadbanger totally rocks – wish I had started that TV show first when I thought “hey wouldn't it be cool to do a tv show all about DIYing? And make it awesome and geared towards the younger generation?” Yeah, shoulda done that back in '05 when I scribbled that idea down in my notebook. Aw, krap.
alex*at*audemaur: Great! I hope it helps your friend! Is she a designer? I'd love to see her website if she has one!
Wow, Brianna, that second photo of that dress is OFF THE HOOK! That must have taken you hours! What is it made of? It's so chic!
Thank you Kate! I love your website and its focus on sustainability and eco-friendliness – great job!
Thank you for your comments!
No, she's not a designer, but she is an artist. She's trying to put a site together about fare trade and business practices in the fashion world. I'll send you a link when she gets it up and running.
Thank you! I'd love to hear how the mini-dress goes – even if you think it's a catastrophe (but of course I hope not). I don't consider any of my things fully resolved designs yet, and there were about three catastrophes per design along the way.
I really appreciate your approach to blogging, and love the contagious enthusiasm. Thanks again,
“Fast fashion” has been so maligned over the past few years that many lose sight of the big picture.
Fast fashion refers to a PROCESS not the product or end result. As much as people would prefer not to know, it is unarguably more ecologically sustainable than what has become standard in manufacturing -even among eco designers.
The issue across the board is overproduction which creates eco devastation, waste and costs all its own. Fast fashion is not overproduced (very long story). FF is cut to order in very small lots. FF is produced by networks of small local sewing contractors which leaves more money in those communities. 90% of these contractors are live in the same communities where the products are sold. Like Spain in the case of Zara. The process makes it impossible to produce large quantities in huge lots in places like China -for example.
Fast fashion means:
1. designs are produced to order, there is no overproduction.
2. small lot production, no huge quantities
3. small companies produce the orders quickly
4. more money is left in local communities, not in the gleaming skyscraper headquarters of far flung enterprises in industrial centers.
There is a better name for what has become known to laymen as fast fashion. In manufacturing circles, this process is known as lean manufacturing. Lean manufacturing is the sanest and kindest form of manufacturing there is.
There are plenty of people who are “fast fashion” producers who do not make junk. It simply does not follow that if you produce clothing quickly, that it is junk. Correlation does not equal causation.
[Timo: Parsons? Can't wait to hear more about that…]
Kathleen Fasanella: Thank you for your input and for visiting my blog! I have been reading yours for quite some time now after purchasing “The Entrepreneur's Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing.”
I was actually using the term “fast fashion” as in the collective vernacular – meaning fashion made to excess, made quickly, with a quick turnover, and producing lots of waste. From wiki: “Fast fashion is a term used to describe clothing collections which are based on the most recent fashion trends presented at Fashion Week in both the spring and the autumn of every year. These trends are designed and manufactured quickly and cheaply to allow the mainstream consumer to take advantage of current clothing styles at a lower price. This philosophy of quick manufacturing at an affordable price is used in large retailers such as H&M, Forever 21, Zara, and Primark.”
Though the term has now been misaligned, as you point out, with waste and excess, and instead refers to a process that is quick-response and made in small batches, many people are not aware of this difference and believe “fast fashion” and supermarket fashion to be non-eco-friendly, and rather than redefining the meaning of the term, I used it as I believe the average person to understand it.
Thank you for pointing out the differences between the layman's term “fast fashion” and the true manufacturing process of “lean manufacturing.”
Have you seen the “Blood, Sweat, and T-Shirts” series that originally aired on the BBC, now airing on Planet Green? (http://www.innyvinny.com/2010/02/08/there-is-no-free-lunch/)
I thought it might also speak to this issue.
Thank you for your comment!