The cutting stage of garment manufacturing creates the largest amount of pre-consumer fabric wastage. If cutting can be simplified or improved, the waste can be reduced to a large extent.
Textile waste can be divided into pre-consumer and post-consumer waste. The pre-consumer waste is generated at factory floors during cutting, and during the manufacturing process of apparel making, and includes fabric selvedges and leftover fabric scraps. Postconsumer waste is generated by articles like used apparel, towels, bedsheets, carpets, rugs, upholstery, and other textile items.
This article focuses on how to reduce pre-consumer waste by innovative patterns or performance techniques that can be incorporated in manufacturing units. It also introduces a few brands and designers who have taken sustainability to the next level, by using only 100% pre-consumer waste fabric scraps to create new clothing.
Performance Part of the waste created in the textile industry consists of fabrics and trims—including buttons, embroidery threads, and other adornments. It can be said that 10-25% of fabric is wasted during this process. Waste can be created by misprints and embroidery mistakes. If the printing and embroidery is done efficiently, it can help eliminate textile waste to a great extent. The cutting floor waste generated from wrong sample making, sewing waste from faulty craftsmanship, and finishing process waste from dyeing and embroidery can be eliminated by good craftsmanship and care. Correct estimation of fabric consumption can help reduce waste by avoiding of orders of excess fabric quantities.
Culture Being a developing economy, India has a strong culture of recycling. The life of a t-shirt may start at a party, move on to a casual outing, to nightwear, eventually used in the Holi festival of colors, and then finally, a mop to clean the floor!
This recycling is evident in the apparel industry as well. A lot of companies recycle fabric wastes to create accessories, jewelry and patched one-of-a-kind garments. Doodlage, a brand started by Kriti Tula in 2012, creates clothing from textile waste. Tula goes around buying scraps from fabric manufacturers and crafts them into one-of-a-kind clothes which have been showcased at international shows.
Chindi, literally meaning “scraps,” is another brand that uses fabric scraps from the garment-making process and crafts them into toilet kits, yoga bags, tote bags, and small clutches.
Systems in Production.
Waste can be reduced at sample making, cutting, manufacturing, packaging, sewing and finishing levels. One can also reduce the waste by manufacturing large quantities of the same style in different colors or prints, as cutting and production is easier with efficient marker making. A lot of designers lack technical skills like pattern making and fabric cutting, which results in increased fabric wastage. Fabric waste can be eliminated by buying the right width of the fabric. Buying 36-inch-wide fabric for a 46-inch-wide kaftan will create more waste, as will a 46-inch width for a 36-inch wide scarf. Thus, for any designer, it is important to know the technical skills of pattern making and garment construction.
Companies like FabScrap, which collect fabric waste from manufacturers and sell it to designers and quilters, are changing the systems of fabric shopping. This helps small designers to experiment with less fabric quantities and in return the bigger textile manufacturers are able to get rid of their excess fabrics. By volunteering for a couple of hours at their New York City warehouse, students can get some free textile yardages in return!
ReRoll, a venture by Brooklyn based designer Daniel Silverstein, is a on a similar mission as Doodlage. Silverstein is on a mission of zero-waste fashion products. He collects fabric waste from garment factories and makes it into soft textile goods and apparel.
Eileen Fisher has started an innovative project, Renew, where they collect old Eileen Fisher clothing and refurbish or renew it. This helps reduce the number of new pieces bought by a consumer and refurbishes an existing piece as a part of the refurbished line.
Reducing Waste Although there is no way to completely eliminate the amount of waste created, it is possible to reduce it. Printed fabric, one-directional prints, and stripes usually generate a greater amount of wastage. If multi-directional prints and more solid fabrics can be used, the cutting can be done efficiently to reduce the waste.
Silhouettes with complex patterns and more pieces add to the waste. Box fit silhouettes and full-width kaftans, which use the full-width of the fabric, help eliminate left-over fabrics. This will, of course, alter the experience of the clothing. A loosely-fit kaftan which eliminates waste, cannot substitute for a well-fitted formal office wear tunic or a couture gown. It may be more suitable for a beach, resort, or lounge.
On the other hand, a designer’s innovative approach to versatile clothing can help eliminate waste. A reversible jacket which can be worn on two sides eliminates the need to have two separate items of clothing and suffices with one instead. A day time tunic which can be worn as an evening dress serves the purpose for a traveler to carry fewer clothes, and hence produce fewer items of clothing.
Thus, by adopting creative design, technical pattern making, and innovative utilization, the amount of waste generated while production in the apparel industry can be reduced to a great extent to move towards a sustainable future and circular economy.
Ritu Jadwani is a social entrepreneur who works with nonprofits in India to generate employment opportunities for differently abled women and skilled artisans. In 2013, she launched Namaste NYC, a fair trade label that creates hand block printed apparel, scarves, leather bags, & trinket accessories in collaboration with these artisans. Most recently, she has been working as a Program Manager & Business mentor with the Blackstone LaunchPad at Thomas Jefferson University, aimed at assisting students in realizing their own entrepreneurial dreams.