Zero Waste Design Thinking

Abstract: The fashion system is contributing to the environmental and social crises on an ever increasing scale. The industry must transform in order to situate itself within the environmental and social limits proposed by economist Kate Raworth, and the 17 sustainable development goals set out by the United Nations. This research explored methods of eliminating textile waste through utilising zero waste pattern cutting to expand the outcomes possible within industrial contexts and speculates as to the implications for the wider industry and society. Employing an experimental and phenomenological approach, this thesis outlines the testing of known strategies in the context of industry and responds with new emergent strategies to the challenges that arose. A series of interviews were conducted with designers who have applied zero-waste fashion design in an industry context – both large and small scale – to unpack the strategies used and contextualise the difficulties faced. The findings that emerged from the iterative design practice and the experience of working within the field tests inform the surrounding discussions and reflections. This reflection brings into sharp relief the inherent conflicts that exist within the fashion system and has led to the development of a series of theoretical models.The implications for design and industry are broad. Firstly that while this thesis outlines garment design strategies, and broader – company-wide – approaches that can work to reduce waste in a given context, this research finds that a holistic transformation of the internal design and management processes of the industry is required for them to be successful. In response, theoretical models have been developed which seek to articulate the constraints, roles and actions of design within broader company practices, while contextualising these within the economic system it operates. It is clear that reducing waste will only have a minor positive effect on the environmental outcomes unless we also reduce consumption of raw materials through reducing yield or reducing consumption – ideally both. These findings and models point towards a necessary recalibration of the industry as a whole – small changes are not enough as the existing methods, processes and ethos are deeply embedded, and its agents are resistant to change. The results concur with previous research and conclude that a fundamental shift in thinking is required – one that prioritises a different set of constraints to those the industry and society currently focus on – in order to make the rapid and meaningful change necessary.