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No waste of fashion's raw materials


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    Zero-waste fashion sketch by students at Parsons The New School for Design.

    - Jonathan Grassi

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    Zero-waste fashion sketches by students at Parsons The New School for Design.

    - Jonathan Grassi

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    Zero-waste fashion sketches by students at Parsons The New School for Design.

    - Jonathan Grassi

  • Photo 4 of 15

    Zero-waste fashion sketches by students at Parsons The New School for Design.

    - Jonathan Grassi

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    Zero-waste fashion sketches by students at Parsons The New School for Design.

    - Jonathan Grassi

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    A draft muslin of zero-waste jeans.

    - Jonathan Grassi

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    A draft muslin of a zero-waste jacket.

    - Jonathan Grassi

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    Inside the workroom at Carol Young Undesigned Studio Boutique in Los Angeles.

    - Adriene Hill / Marketplace

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    Patterns hang along the wall inside the workroom at Carol Young Undesigned Studio Boutique in Los Angeles.

    - Adriene Hill / Marketplace

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    Finished zero-waste garments as part of Parsons' collaboration with Loomstate.

    - Jonathan Grassi

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    Finished zero-waste garments as part of Parsons' collaboration with Loomstate.

    - Jonathan Grassi

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    Finished zero-waste garments as part of Parsons' collaboration with Loomstate.

    - Jonathan Grassi

  • Photo 13 of 15

    Finished zero-waste garments as part of Parsons' collaboration with Loomstate.

    - Jonathan Grassi

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    Finished zero-waste garments as part of Parsons' collaboration with Loomstate.

    - Jonathan Grassi

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    Carol Young Undesigned Studio Boutique in Los Angeles.

    - Jonathan Grassi

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: We've got sustainable energy. And sustainable manufacturing. Sustainable agriculture and sustainable construction. Clothing that's easy on the planet? Not really.

So some big clothing manufacturers and retailers have formed a new trade group called The Sustainable Apparel Coalition. They want standards for every single garment sewed and sold, every piece of fabric, every zipper, every manufacturer along the supply chain, and then an easy-to-understand scorecard for consumers so they can see at a glance the entire environmental impact of a single piece of clothing.

Adriene Hill reports from the Marketplace Sustainability Desk step one is cutting down on scraps.


Adriene Hill: I'm assuming most of you are not listening naked. So, look down at what you're wearing. Chances are at least 15 percent of the fabric that went into that T-shirt or jacket or pair of jeans wound up on the cutting room floor.

Simon Collins: Which is a colossal and tragic waste of fabric.

Simon Collins is the dean of the school of fashion at Parsons in New York City. He says reducing waste in the production of garments is better for the environment, but that's not the reason he expects it to catch on broadly.

Collins: I think if you look in the rise of the price of cotton, if you say to any industry, 'we can stop you, we can help you to not waste 15 percent of your raw materials,' they'll be all over it. Maybe they couldn't care less about sustainability, but they care about their bottom line.

So at Parsons, students have been working on zero-waste garments. Think of it like rolling out cookies and figuring out how to cut interesting shapes without wasting any of the dough. It's not easy. And reducing waste like this requires a significant rethink of how clothes are put together.

Fashion designer Carol Young shows me around her workroom. An assistant cuts big curvy pieces out of some black knit fabric for a dress.

Carol Young: And then we had these big areas that didn't have anything. And we though, oh we can cut our cloud scarf, so we put those pieces in there and then it uses up the whole piece.

By using up the extra fabric, she creates extra products she can sell in her little Los Angeles boutique. For Young, creating less wasteful clothes is part of her design philosophy.

For shoemaker Nike, it's part of the business model.

Lorrie Vogel: We know that in the future there are declining resources and increasing demand on those resources, so we know we have to create products in a completely new way.

Lorrie Vogel heads up Nike's Considered line of more environmentally friendly products. She says the company's been successful at reducing waste, this year saving the amount of material it would take to make the uppers of 15 million pairs of shoes. Nike's also started recycling plastic water bottles into fabric. And, in case you're curious, it takes about eight bottles to make a jersey.

Vogel: We don't want to just be less bad. What we'd like to do is really paint a vision of what good looks like. And for us that's all about creating closed-loop products. So our vision is to take materials from an old shoe and an old shirt, grind them up and turn them into a new shoe and a new shirt.

A closed loop means that every new product is made from old products -- without any new-new inputs. It's a concept of fashion sustainability which allows us all to keep buying, to get that new pair of shoes we've been drooling over, without feeling bad about it.

Susanna Schick: It's about creating new products, which create jobs, and creating them in a way that has as little environmental impact as possible.

Susanna Schick is a sustainability consultant for the fashion industry. She says using less to make new garments -- and using recycled materials -- makes a lot of sense when you think about sustainability as an economic as well as environmental concern.

Schick: A lot of sustainability-minded people are all about well just wear the same thing forever. Buy something and wear it forever. Buy used. Buy secondhand. But that's not going to create jobs. That's not going to create jobs here. That's not going to create jobs in China, Africa, anywhere people make clothes.

And it's a way forward that's maybe more inspiring than wearing the same black dress over-and-over-and-over-and-over.

I'm Adriene Hill for Marketplace.

About the author

Adriene Hill is a senior multimedia reporter for the Marketplace sustainability desk, with a focus on consumer issues and the individual relationship to sustainability and the environment.
Log in to post7 Comments

Dear Mr Anthony,
I'd love a conversation with you to hear more about what you do. I completely agree; zero-waste is as old as clothes. Teaching that to fashion designers of today, however, is tricky; many of us (if not you) forgot how to make clothes in such a way in the past century or so.

Re: Patagonia; they're pioneers and deserve to be commended. However, some of the comments above confuse recycling with waste avoidance; waste avoidance is preferable to recycling. Some forms of textile recycling are highly resource-intensive, and avoiding creating the waste is better than recycling.

From Susanna: "A lot of sustainability-minded people are all about well just wear the same thing forever. Buy something and wear it forever. Buy used. Buy secondhand. But that's not going to create jobs. That's not going to create jobs here. That's not going to create jobs in China, Africa, anywhere people make clothes."

I have to disagree. There are already examples of successful business models that do create jobs, that aren't based on planned obsolescence or perpetual growth, and they do suggest a different, better future for us. Please do take care in what you say as your comment could be seen to discount the valiant efforts of countless innovative individuals and businesses.

Creating jobs in Africa and China. Really? At what point did the job creation mantra become a magical incantation making the spell caster immune from criticism. Sorry folks but the only jobs created by the *ahem* "fashion" industry are in sweatshops. If Nike and the other members of the so called "Sustainable" Apparel Coalition were so interested in sustainability they would divert the funds currently used for advertising and the mobilization of an army of public relations sycophants and use it to develop high quality products which hold up over time and manufacture them in factories where workers are treated with the respect due to every human being. Now THAT would be, "a vision of what good looks like".

MZ Hill et al:Greetings!
Your story of fashion/fabricks is a clear case of re-inventing the wheel. For better than several centurys, mens & ladies garments were made with an eye to NOT wasteing fabrick, because the cloth was more expensive than the labour. The waste was either saved for repairs, or sold to 'rag men' to make into paper. But I'd bet you cannot sell man-made fabrick to make into any sort of paper.
I have been making 'sustainable'shirts for many years; with less than 01% waste. I then save he waste, to make a new collar or cuffs for the shirt. Ditto, with mens trowsers.
It is only since the advent of mass production & manmade fabricks that the cloathing industry has created such a waste of material and time. It takes longer to make a WalMart shirt, than one of my pre-1900 shirts. Now, how many Yen does that involve?
If the neo-hippes are seriours about sustanable fashions/fabricks, then they need look no further than the Amish. They have a two hundred year head start.
Trust to God, but Row for Shore
Mr.Charles Anthony
Historical Tailor
Member-Re-created-74th Regt. Argyle Highlanders-1776-1784-Company Tailor
And etc.

Does shopping at Value village mean I'm a fashionista? It's all recycled and frankly looks FABULOUS on me!

This story totally disregards the work Patagonia has done for many years to reduce waste in their business. They recycle their old clothes, and make many of their items from recycled materials. You should do your next piece on sustainability on them!

Great story, but how about acknowledging Patagonia. 90% of their clothes are recyclable and they got behind organic farmers and brought organic cotton to the marketplace. Check out their common threads program.

Thanks so much for covering this critical issue! I'm really excited about the Sustainable Apparel Coalition- it will create the scale we need to really make this happen. And as the price of oil continues to rise, recycling petroleum-based products (like 50% of our clothing- polyester) will become even more affordable.

Spelling Note: I'm Susanna Schick and from Nike you interviewed Lorrie Vogel :-)

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