Zero waste fashion.
At its heart, it’s an oxymoron. You can’t produce new things and ever be “zero waste”. But just like the zero waste movement as a whole, it’s more about the spirit of attempting harm reduction toward the planet than anything else.
So in this post, let’s talk through what zero waste fashion is along with the many different ways you can engage with it.
What is zero waste fashion?
Unsurprisingly, for such a broad and nuanced topic, there’s no definite checklist that tells you “yup! It’s zero waste and totally sustainable!”
So when we talk about zero waste fashion, it generally means one of two things:
- Companies or designers who may use recovered materials, work reduce waste, and take responsibility for their clothing’s end-of-life;
- Or, it could be designing your own clothes and using patterns that leave no waste on the cutting table.
But remember – zero waste is never zero – so any “zero waste fashion” option is creating some sort of waste or environmental impact. Imperfect system, imperfect answers. Still, there are definitely ways to drastically reduce the impact fast fashion and excessive consumption has on the planet.
Let’s get practical – how can you actually do that?
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Option #1: DIY projects
I’m not going to lie. As someone keen on sticking to an all-black palette, much of zero waste fashion doesn’t appeal to me. The by-nature patchwork appearance is just not my vibe; luckily, there are a ton of incredible zero waste patterns and DIY options for those of us brave enough to pull out the sewing machine.
This Seamwork article is great if you’re looking for a good primer on the philosophy (and a bit of the technical) behind zero waste fashion patterns.
Here are a few of the free and not-so-free zero waste patterns I’ve found around the web. Happy exploring!
Zero waste patterns
We’re blessed to have some truly gifted designers making incredible patterns that drastically reduce – or eliminate – the amount of fabric waste a traditional pattern might make.
Dive into a few and see which fits your style and abilities:
- Maynard Dress ($)
- Claire Skirt ($)
- Lillypilly Dress ($)
- Milan AV-JC (free) – a set of zero waste patterns designed by Mylène L’Orguilloux from 2018 to 2019.
- Makeuse (free) – another set of unique zero waste patterns from a research project.
- Zero Waste No 1. Shirt/Dress (free)
- Zero Waste Patterns PDF (free)
Tips for zero waste fashion patterns
- Ignore traditional pattern placement… at least a little bit. See exactly how close you can get your normal pattern pieces to save a little bit more fabric than you normally would. Most have some space to mess around with.
- Save your scraps! Even if you can’t find the perfect zero waste pattern for you, just saving the scraps from a regular pattern and planning to reuse them at a later point gets you a step closer to zero waste. (Maybe to stuff a cute plush toy?)
- If you’re brave, try piecing. Piecing is just sewing smaller scraps of fabric to make a larger piece of fabric necessary for a pattern. As someone who is married to black and only black, this more colorful and pieced-together look isn’t necessarily for me but… if you’re braver, go for it!
Option #2: closed-loop companies
Again, it bears repeating that none of these companies are truly “zero waste” – they create waste through fabrics scraps, water usage, energy, etc. but they’re all taking major steps to address the most egregious examples of waste within the traditional fashion industry.
These are just a few of many companies beginning to do the work that I can personally vouch for!
- For Days – if you need simple basics, these are them. For Days offers a closed-loop system AKA they’ll take back your shirts when they’re tattered, reuse them, and send you a new version at a discounted rate!
- Eileen Fisher – while on the higher end of the cost spectrum, Eileen Fisher is an incredible example of a large, mainstream company doing it right. They take all of their clothing back to either repair/resell as-is or turn into new products!
- Tonlé – Tonlé champions a restorative, regenerative, and just future for fashion. They prioritize workers rights alongside reducing their waste through zero waste sewing practices. Their garments aren’t cheap but their pricing isn’t high-end, either.
- Zero Waste Daniel – based in NYC, Daniel uses pre-consumer waste from the garment industry to craft his clothes and accessories that promise to send nothing to the landfill.
- Small makers – also consider the small makers doing cool stuff! Etsy offers quite a few designers with zero waste clothing made from scraps from other projects!
Option #3: second hand/thrifted
While not always included in “zero waste fashion”, a large part of having a low carbon footprint in your closet is appreciating second hand or thrifted clothing.
Of course you should check out all the thrift shops or vintage stores in your area, but there’s also a plethora of great online resources that can help you search for the perfect wardrobe addition from home.
A few options:
- thredUP. I find thredUP to be a really solid choice for basics and the very occasional mid-level designer. For example, I got two Eileen Fisher pieces in excellent condition for very reasonable prices. Worth checking out, it’s really blown up and has so many options.
- Etsy. If you’re looking for one-off, unique pieces (particularly vintage), Etsy is the way to go. It’s definitely more of a hunt, but if you’re into that… it can be a lot of fun.
If you want to learn even more about good thrifting hacks for a more sustainable lifestyle, check out my ultimate guide to zero waste thrift shopping!
And that’s that! I hope you have a few jumping off points to start exploring zero waste fashion in earnest. Only after you’ve worn all of your current clothes until you can’t any longer and/or carefully considered making a purchase, of course!