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Tackling Fast Fashion With Zero Waste  Design

Image adapted from original by Peter GriffinThe number of people that are concerned about the consequences of their consumption is growing and it is no surprise that the fashion industry is attempting to respond to this trend. Even global chains like H&M and Zara, which are often blamed as symbols of spendthrift fast fashion, are taking small steps to assure their customers that the environment is one of their main concerns. Following up the concept of sustainable art, the fashion industry is reconsidering its ways of production and discovering a new source of inspiration - zero waste design.

The vast negative environmental effects that fast fashion causes are more frequently pointed out by NGOs and the media. Their criticism is based on the fact that the industry uses an immense amount of resources and toxic chemicals, causes water pollution and contaminates agricultural lands. Last but not least, it’s a source of enormous textile waste. Clothing manufacturing creates more than 15% of textile leftovers.

And there is also another aftermath of this system. Fast fashion forces consumers to want more. Our insatiable demand costs us money, time and even happiness as we are losing the connection to our possessions and tend to be wasteful. With new trends coming out in short periods of time, we can hardly appreciate one particular piece in our wardrobe. Reversing this trend became a part of a minimalistic agenda and brushed up the concept of the 10-item wardrobe.

In December 2016, a trend forecaster Li Edelkoort declared that the current fashion is old-fashioned as it fails to reflect the demands of today’s society, which is becoming more conscious about the environment and human rights. Fashion should no longer profit off of low-income countries and the enslavement of workers. Edelkoort’s speech has inspired a New York based designer Daniel Silverstein who is running his Zero Waste Daniel store.

“I was sick of making cocktail and evening dresses. I was so stressed out designing all the time and I just thought like this isn’t helping anybody,” explains Silverstein. Zero Waste Daniel aims to make social and environmental change in the fashion industry. The company believes in fair wages for workers, thoughtful design and that “putting energy into reusing wasted materials is better than creating new ones”.

Fast fashion and zero waste fashion are based on fundamentally different ideas. While fast fashion builds on speed and low costs, the zero waste method requires thoroughness, creativity and a personal approach to every piece of clothing. This seemingly insurmountable contradiction might have been part of the reason for Estonian designer Reet Aus’s lack of success.

The documentary Out Of Fashion (2016) by Jaak Kilmi and Lennart Laberenz follows the ambitious designer on her mission to convince large fashion corporates that the sustainable upcycling production of clothes is not incompatible with their ideology. She travels to Bangladesh and with a help of local clothes producers tries to incorporate the upcycling principle into mass production. Although she proves that it is possible to use textile waste in this environment, complicated designs and the need for creative solutions slow down the whole process and the initiative was ultimately rejected by H&M management.

Nevertheless, Reet Aus still tries changing the fashion industry with the method of upcycling. Her Up-Shirts are made of textile waste and apparently save 91% of water and 87% of energy. She also started the project Trash to Trend based on her doctoral research on upcycled fashion and aims to connect the community of young designers that are interested in this more eco-friendly method.

Designer Mark Liu admits that creating zero-waste designs is incredibly difficult, especially if the final results are supposed to fit the body. Every piece of fabric has its function in the final design. In his PhD research, Liu combined fashion techniques with scientific principles. He believes that with more funding, this combination could be ground-breaking. For instance, we mustn’t merely rely on cotton to create fabrics. Our world is full of alternative materials such as seaweed, banana and coconut waste.

Zero waste designers prove that there are countless possibilities to turn our environmentally harmful consumption into something eco-friendly and original. We only need to be creative and look for the potential in seemingly valueless things that surround us. Second hand stores might be a good place to start your design career. Getting inspired by DIY upcycling ideas is, thanks to social media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest, easier than ever.

By Eliška Olšáková - Online Journalism Intern

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