Zero-waste fashion coming up

Last updated 12:49 16/03/2011
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YIELD: A new theory of fashion suggests that there are better, more efficient ways to make clothing.

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Zero-waste rather than size zero is becoming the focus of fashion designers worldwide.

Twelve international experts, including a Wellington designer, are showing how it's done in an exhibition, Yield: Making Fashion Without Waste, which opens at The Dowse next week [March 26].

Well-known British designers Zandra Rhodes and Julian Roberts, and New York- based Malaysian designer Yeohlee Teng are among the group showing examples of zero-waste style - designing clothes where no scrap is left after the pattern is cut out. Current conventional garment production methods see 15 per cent of fabric wasted.

The exhibition has been co-curated by Holly McQuillan of Massey University and Finnish designer Timo Rissanen from Parsons The New School for Design in New York, who share a passion for reducing waste without compromising style. Both have work in the exhibition too.

The pair met in 2009 when Rissanen was based in Sydney and it was a meeting of minds. Both were working independently on ways to create clothing without wasting fabric.

The designers featuring in Yield at The Dowse - Rhodes, Teng, Roberts, Jennifer Whitty, David Telfer, Caroline Priebe, Carla Fernandez, Tara St James, Sam Formo and Natalie Chanin - are all leaders in their field who have all sought intelligent means to reduce waste, some creating patterns that fit together like a puzzle, or require no cutting at all.

Rissanen says it was during his undergraduate thesis research on Madeleine Vionnet and her influence on Claire McCardell, Issey Miyake and John Galliano that he realised zero-waste fashion design might be possible. "I was aware of historical examples of it but wasn't sure how to go about designing such garments," he says.

When an opportunity came up to do a PhD in 2004, he knew immediately that he wanted to uncover strategies for fashion designers to adopt zero-waste practices.

"I come from a fairly environmentally- minded family - not that uncommon in Finland; as a nation we tend to be quite connected to nature. Therefore the wastefulness of fashion was always something I was uncomfortable with, even though I loved and still love fashion," Rissanen says.

"Zero-waste has been a part of making clothes for millennia, it's just we forgot for a little while. It is just one solution to one problem, and as there are hundreds of sustainability issues in fashion, moving forward we need hundreds of solutions. A daunting task, but there is a thriving international fashion community working on this (Holly and myself included), and I believe we're up to the task."

Rissanen was recently appointed the first-ever assistant professor of Fashion Design and Sustainability at Parsons. The zero-waste programme he has developed and teaches at Parsons has been profiled by the New York Times, and Time magazine interviewed him for an article on Levi's. He is also co-editor with Alison Gwilt of the just released book Shaping Sustainable Fashion.

McQuillan has also contributed to the title (now available from Amazon) and is also profiled in Sass Brown's book Eco Fashion. A lecturer at Massey's College of Creative Arts, she has spent years experimenting and working out how to do zero-waste design "because there was no one to teach [her]".

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She got the idea after graduating from Massey in 2003, when a tutor commented on a group of five dresses she had designed for her Masters. Each was cut from fabric the same shape, but each design was different. "My tutor said the process I had developed had really great sustainability credentials," McQuillan says.

Since then she's developed her own techniques of designing in a zero-waste way and is now passing that on to others through her teaching and participation in projects and exhibitions like Yield.

"I don't have my own label. The way I explore zero-waste fashion is developing good ways of teaching other people how to do that," McQuillan says. "Working on new interesting ways to form and shape, and passing that on. It becomes another skill a designer can use."

McQuillan's contribution to Yield is a collaboration with Wellington textile designer Genevieve Packer. The featured garments, which include narrow leg "stove pipe" pants - are an example of zero-waste cutting due to the "embedded design", where multiple garments are embedded into a single pattern.

"The exhibition covers primarily contemporary designers with a bit of a look at the past. All have either designed pieces in their line of work which are either award-winning for the zero-waste approach or renowned in sustainable design in fashion as being particularly good examples or historically been leaders in the field like Yeohlee Teng and Zandra Rhodes," says McQuillan.

"Rhodes is still a contemporary designer. Her zero-waste work was in the 70s and early 80s. She loved the textiles so much she felt it was wrong to waste them."

British menswear designer David Telfer has created a duffle coat especially for the exhibition. He has developed ways to address sustainability with systems such as Minimal Seam Construction, a DIY garment kit, heat moulding and one-piece construction. His designs and philosophies focus on fewer seams, less manufacture time, and less cost.

Print press: Chinese Squares, Chinese Collection Spring/Summer, 1980. Collection of the San Diego History Center, Gift of Lucretia G Morrow.  Zandra Rhodes. Photo:  CHRIS TRAVERS

"I you can make something quickly by having minimal seams you can keep the manufacture onshore in a higher wage economy," McQuillan says.

F British designer Julian Roberts, fashion host of BBC Blast online, is the inventor of a garment pattern cutting method called "Subtraction Cutting" upon which Massey University's "Drape" paper is based. "His approach starts with the fabric like the zero-waste designer".

The work of Mexico City-based Carla Fernandez is inspired by indigenous clothes based on a geometric system  pieced together from large rectangular shapes, triangles and squares.

McQuillan believes zero-waste will be a big part of fashion's future.

"We're beginning to see the death of cut and sew fashion production with [the introduction of new technologies of] whole garment knitting and DPOL [Direct Panel on Loom] whole garment weaving," she says. "From a consumer perspective there is a groundswell towards more sustainable methods of consumption and a greater awareness of what we buy, how we wash it, where we buy it from and how it is made."

Yield: Making Fashion Without Waste opens at The Dowse on March 26

- The Dominion Post

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