Zero Waste in Fashion Design

Keywords: Sustainability. Zero waste patterns, zero waste, Pattern making 

Limited resources and climbing cost have been the seeding ground for concepts that are new to our 21st century. Concepts like sustainable development, circular economy and ethical businesses have been focus of discussions for the past two to three decades. When applied for fashion design industry we are talking of how to save the resources in terms of limiting yarn and fabric wastage in current manufacturing process. The extent and amount of wastage is alarming in our factories and fabric wasted and discarded in cutting process is a matter of concern. It is a concern not only because it ends up in landfills, but also the fact that fabric is one of the main costing head of any garment. If we can save on fabric in Cutting Room of manufacturing unit it is a win-win situation for both maker and user.

It is estimated that as much as 15 percent of the fabric is wasted in any cutting plan. However, this was not so a few centuries ago. History is the evidence that limited resources were kept in mind while designing and making garments in any culture. Japanese Kimono dress is cut from rectangular shapes of Patterns which leads to zero wastage. Our traditional Indian garments like panelled skirt (Lehanga) and tunics for men and women (Kalidar Kurta) are some of the best examples of how not to waste fabrics in pattern cutting process. These garments were comfortable, gave interesting silhouettes and didn’t give up on the fitting aspects to the wearer. The saree is an excellent example of zero wastage in fabric – the saree is usable as soon as it comes off the loom, and you don’t need to cut or sew this classic costume of India. The versatile nature of this costume show possibility of a rectangular six yards of fabric draped in several styles on a woman’s body. Similarly, ancient costumes of Roman and Greeks were rectangles or circles that were draped around the body without much of cutting and stitching involved. People respected and took care that fabric which was made with so much of hard labour on hand operated looms, is put to the best usage.

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Greek “chiton” for men and women were draped rectangular piece of fabric

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Different Saree drapes

What can we learn from history of clothing? The zero waste concept was first coined in start of 21st C by Warren Snow in New Zealand in year 2000. Soon the concept caught on with US government programs for recycling at grass root level. Soon it caught on with Australia, Europe and Asia as well. In 2003 in Wales, Zero Waste International Alliance was discussed and formed with the mission to divert minimum 90 percent of waste from landfills and incinerators.

In Fashion Industry, Zero Waste clothing refers to little or no waste of fabric in their production. Before the garment reaches the consumer, we have to plan, design and manufacture garments in such a way that least of fabric and other resources are wasted. Patterns are the bridge between the fashion sketch and final garments. Hence, a Pattern maker is an import link in sustainable fashion chain. The usual process of Design as taught and practiced in design schools and industry is to sketch the idea of design from a trend and mood board, then the sketch goes to pattern master who makes the patterns of that style and cutting takes place as per the required design. However, once we flip the concept of making garment from design first to plan No-wastage first, we will notice that pattern planning comes as an important starting point. The fabric type and width is an important aspect and it has to be first considered as a deciding factor rather than final silhouette. The process becomes more logical than inspirational, as we usually are flexible in making our designs more in tune with our goal of not wasting any fabric. Another idea that is catching on is to recycle the strips of old garments or surplus fabric pieces into strips which are then again woven, crocheted or inter-laced into new garments.

Many designers use the draping technique to arrive at garment designs than sketching to start with. In this technique, you drape a piece or pieces of fabric on the dress form to make 3 dimensional garments straight on a dummy. The approach is open ended and gives room for experimental drapes and unusual functional details. Another approach is to weave that much panel of patterns that is required – Direct panel on Loom, it is something like whole garment system where yarn is fed into the machine and out comes the garment – No fabric is produced and yarns make directly the shapes of panels or patterns required for the garment. These techniques are expensive and not many can afford its cost.

Some famous designers who have worked with zero waste in their design approach are – Zandra Rhodes, Julian Roberts, Holly McQuillan, and Siddharth Upadhdhya for his Direct Panel on Loom approach.
Zandra Rhodes was one of the pioneers in the zero waste concept in the British fashion scene. Her simple, geometrical cuts are famous with celebrities. Julian Robert is an exponent of zero waste throughout the process of design, Cut and make through his inventive method of pattern cutting called “Subtraction Method”. He starts with less of planning and more of creative risk, cutting the fabric, manipulating on dummy and sewing in unusual ways. Here, in his own words –“Design comes last, not the first” and one enjoys the accidental innovations in the process.

It (Design) is discovered by chance at the end of the prototyping process, not at the beginning where it would be a limitation or precondition. So to me ‘designing’ is making, it’s not making a pretty picture and then passing it on for more skilful hands to realise and bring it to life” – J. Roberts in an interview on January 30, 2019.

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Holly McQuillan wrote the first book on this concept in 2016- Zero Waste Fashion Design, whereby she expresses her concern that problem is bigger than we think. A prominent personality in Sustainable fashion, she continues to research and teach the same to her students at Massey University, NZ.

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Julian Roberts draped dress using Subtraction Method

Many young designers are adopting this concept in their brands. One of the interesting one is Dr. Mark Liu who applied mathematical equations to make patterns in such a way to save onto a lot of fabric being wasted. Karen Glass is another one to be inspired from. She hunts scraps from various factories and joins these pieces in an artistic way to make forever fashionable ensembles. Daniel Silverstone is working on same lines – to join pieces that are discarded into new patterns that make it look artistic and one of a kind.


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Denim pieces patchwork by Daniel Silverstone

The functional need gives rise to design intervention. The function remains top priority. The less is wasted, the more is saved of every resource – labour, money invested, materials, ideas; and, most importantly, there is always so much already produced in society, can we not reuse that itself?

Circular economy as a concept can be a reality for every business. Given the risks in supply chain and system becoming too complex, we need simpler strategies to solve issues. We should not be making new solutions to solve a problem that existed due to a failed solution. That is a never-ending game, and we can see the repercussion of over-dependence on systems now. Basically, we should stop passing bucks – “my waste is government’s responsibility, Or, what consumers do with their clothing is not my concern”, etc. etc. The time has come to take responsibilities and contribute for everyone’s well being rather than being self centered as a business strategy. And, clever planning to reduce waste of fabric is one small step for a big issue facing our garment industry today. 

Website References:


Recycling art for boys costumes in Kutchch nomads  



Western Indian region of Kutchch in Gujarat State is home to several nomadic tribes known for their distinct costumes. Rabari tribe is known by its intricate hand crafted costumes for men called “Kediyo” which is an overlapped fitted tunic with gathers at waist. It is replicated in smaller version for young boys too. On similar lines, The Ahir Tribe boys wear almost same costume but the overlap is missing. The making of the costume is unique as each tribe is known by particular motifs and style of decoration. After analyzing a few of the menswear costumes of various tribes it is important to highlight that this art of garment making is based upon the concept of recycling scraps from old garments using various techniques of hand stitches for seams and embroidery.

For study, primary sample were collected from Bhuj,  Kutchch region over several visits supported by secondary data is through books and articles on costumes of nomadic tribes of this region.

One such garment for young boy was sourced by the author in the year 2017 which is exemplary for its techniques of recycling and aesthetics. The patterns or shapes of pieces are rectangular or linear representing use of zero-waste technique. The upper portion has intricate embroidery on front and back with cotton thread. The embroidery is done on layers of old fabrics to make it sturdy and render a quilted effect. The quilting type layering technique uses old menswear shirt pieces.

Figure 1 – Kediyo for boys

The collar continued as curved shoulder panel is one “joined” patterns that are patched on to a basic shape of bodice pattern. The shoulder seam is eliminated and the curved shape on chest is highlighted using a thin piping of multicolor in the joint. The piping is of a striped fabric which is cut on cross-grain and acts as a binding for hemline using sewing machines stitches. The fullness at waist are made by are small pleats in waistline that are held together with hand-stitches of blanket type embroidery. The underarm seam is a hand done “flat fell” seam with running stitch. To complete the tribal look a golden strip lurex called as “Gota” is put on the sleeve hem with hand tacked stitches.


The embroidery is done by women keeping in mind the color combination that are already present in the recycled pieces. The pink, green and blue are taken from the stripes of the menswear shirt fabric in bottom. The open chain stitch is used to make abstract motifs representing flowers, home and peacocks. It doesn’t use any mirror work which is exclusive for girl’s attires. This embroidery is done on multiple layers of fabrics some of which are thick twill weave. The synchronous stitches with various colors represent the colorful spirit of these tribes.


Figure 2 – Raised collar as a patch on to main garment… and front opening with handmade loops and recycled plastic buttons.

Figure 3 – Hemline with colorful fabric

Figure 4 – The back bodice with raised collar and shoulder curved pieces

The Kediyo garments for young boys are exemplary of recycling art in desert tribes of Kutchch region where resources are never wasted. The culture of handmade clothes shows mastery in several areas – zero waste pattern making, hand sewing in layers, hand embroidery that is as decorative as well as functional to impart a composite look with recycling different kind of fabrics. The community has scarcity of all kind of resources, and the practice of using old garments to make new ones is transformed into a sustainable textile art form that can be an inspiration for many designers.


  1. Under the Embroidered Sky: Embroideries of the Ahirs of Kutchch, 2010. Published by The Shrujan Trust, Kutch, Gujrat, India.
  2. Frater, J., 2002. This Is Ours: Rabari tradition and Identity in a changing world, Nomadic Peoples.
  3. Pabiben, 2015. Rabari culture. [online] Available at:
  4. Heaphy L., 2017. Rabari People of Northwest India. [online] Available at:


The “Cotton” dilemma for designers

A designer is always faced with challenge of which fabric to use for which type of client and market. However, there is a new challenge – which fiber to choose depending on its carbon footprint?

If I am a conscious consumer, I am always looking for information on several aspects – where was my clothing made, who made it and is it Eco-friendly? The answers are not only diverse but difficult to understand by a common buyer. Reports are several and opinions are infinite. What can a common buyer trust?

First of all, consumers are not given all the facts by all the manufacturing companies. If you read about sustainability aspect of various fabrics, you will find many criticisms against cotton – both at the crop stage as well as at the manufacturing stage. There is the one most popular – it takes some 2000 gallons of water to make one T – shirt – which can easily make you think about the cotton choice.

Second is – It takes all these bad pesticides and fertilizers to grow cotton !

Third, and loved by western media is – Wages are below standards, sweatshops and wastage by cutting methods in manufacturing units (mostly these are based in Developing countries like India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh).

For defending cotton’s case I have a few arguments based upon data –

  1. While people will tell you, cotton is water intensive and dependent on fertilizers, many would hide the fact that traditional method of cotton growing is totally sustainable. Cotton variety that are from ancient times, are still growing in India that use only rain water and animal manure. They don’t use big machines like US farms and make it energy intensive. The variety like Kala cotton of Kutch, Gujrat is a hardy crop resistant to pests. These indigenous varieties were overtaken by Hybrid seeds (sold by US companies) in 1990s so as to see a decline in “Desi” variety cotton crops. the Monsanto US company seeds of Bt cotton has lead to numerous farmer suicide in Mahrashtra alone ( 
  2. Compare this to Petroleum based fibres – Polyester and Acrylic – which are made from Petroleum! And, if anyone is interested, extracting petroleum from earth and making that liquid in fibre form is the most energy intensive and polluting operations on this planet. It releases CO2, Nitrogen Oxide and Sulphur Oxide that are Green House Gases (GHGs) which trap in the atmosphere and produce irreversible climatic conditions and temperature rise on planet. And, polyester is non-biodegradable, while cotton is biodegradable.
  3. Polyester was discovered for making long filament fibres in 1941 in UK and it is produced mainly now in Europe (and India) as well. Compare it to cotton – It is grown in many Asian and African counties from time immemorial giving employment to millions of marginalized farmers whose livelihood will be suffering if we switch to man-made fabrics like Polyester and Acrylic. By default, these strains of cotton seeds have survived over centuries with farming methods adapted as per climatic conditions of that geographical region.
  4. Polyester is made on power-based looms. While cotton can be made from hand operated looms. So, if you compare the sustainability index, hand-spun and hand-woven cotton fabric is far better than polyester fabric.
  5. Cotton is a very good water and sweat absorber – it had good wicking property, so as to make it ideal for tropical climate where humidity and heat co-exist. Man made fabrics are not suitable for these climatic conditions. Whereas, polyester and acrylic are more suitable for cold climates and are non-porous; plus synthetic clothes dry faster in cold climates.
  6. The man-made textiles are bleached, scoured and coloured using a lot of chemical (and only chemical) based processes that leave our water, air and soil totally polluted. But, natural fibres like cotton, hemp and linen can be dyed using natural ingredients that are plant and animal based – like leaves, flowers and tree bark. So, if I choose a polyester T – shirt (even if it is recycled polyester from water bottles), its manufacturing process and its chemical treatment process is very harmful for the environment.

The fact remains, if you choose synthetic fiber at the first stage i.e., at fiber stage, the next processes can only be synthetic. If you choose a natural fiber, its post yarn stage  processes have chances for natural treatments. The first choice will lead to wrong choices later, while the second choice will give you a chance for making less mistakes.

Cotton Farming in India

Cotton farming in US

In conclusion, a designer should look at the full story to understand impacts of choosing a kind of clothing and home furnishing. If we are impressed with only one argument – cotton is water intensive – we would be overlooking various other aspects that make this fabric score better points in ecological footprints. Cotton and natural fabrics are suitable for humid climates and are skin friendly. Synthetic fibers are not skin friendly at all for Asian population. And, buying cotton from hand-loom industry, would be sustaining livelihood of millions of weavers, spinners and growers who have no other option available with them in villages.

Organic wool and cotton from “Desi” varieties are not talk of the western brands as they don’t have the system to grow it in their history. We have it in our history and we are lucky that it has survived for future generation to take advantage of. In order to make brands organic fibre based, west will have to buy from us. And this would not be profitable for them.

So, next time you buy any apparel or home furnishing item see for three things –

  1. Is it natural fibre or man-made synthetic fibre?
  2. Is it made by local artisans on looms at home or made in on machines in a factory?
  3. Is it dyed in chemical colours or is it dyed with natural dyes?

Conscious designers will lead to conscious consumers. The story should be not partial and one sided, story should be holistic and covering socio-economic aspects of designing a product as well.


Are Global fashion brands serious about sustainability?


While many would say it is a fad – a short lived trend, “Sustainability” seems to be factoring in rather than out in international fashion weeks. More and more brands are thinking what changes they should incorporate in existing systems to make brands eco-friendly. Starting with collections inspired by “Biological” and “Natural” inspirations (flowers, animals, trees and foliages…) to Recycling old garments or rejects of industry into new Green Avataars…. to choosing natural fabrics instead of polyester or acrylic, we can see all in the latest Spring Summer shows of Paris, Milan, London as the Trend of the Trends.

If this was not enough many chose to make the Event of Fashion Week sustainable – holding ramp walk in their own studio, re-use sets of last shows, using natural day light than usual glaring focus lights, to some brands actually NOT showing at all in fashion weeks. NOT showing in actual makes some sense if we calculate the cost of holding such events from one city to another versus the declining numbers of serious buyers that you get to see in front rows.

Some bloggers were of the view that Shows are not interesting any more. The curiosity to see the new collection is affected by actual samples, look book, show-peeks and other material that is sent by brands to influencer home just before the show so as to make social marketing and Instagram posts look perfect !

To counteract media criticism of lavish sets and luxurious model Fashion Weeks have given separate space or slots to Ecologically Positive and Ethical brands. In India, we are still to see how it is interpreted with Fashion weeks still continuing with their same style of holding shows. However, many Indian brands are using natural handwoven and hand printed textiles in their collections when sustainability was nowhere in the International buzz.

Zero C Fashion Revolution Week returns, UN Charter signed | Fashion ...

Below is a short summary of what SS 2020 offered us:

Stella McCartney presented 70 percent of her SS 2020 collection in recycled polyester, organic cotton, Raffia, hemp and it was termed as the most vegan collection of her career. Particularly noticed were her Vegan Leather shoes. Similarly, Luxury brands Victoria Beckham and Tommy Hilfiger set the bars even higher in sustainability aspects using cruelty-free materials in everything from bags, to hiking shoes and rain boots. Lewis Hamilton was the face of sportswear brand of Tommy Hilfiger as the British sports star also publicized his vegan diet as life-changing experience. T-shirts and Polos of the collection were made from 100% organic cotton and Reversible jackets RE:DOWN (Regenerated and Rejuvenated down).

Stella McCartney’s SS 2020 story – From Plant to Product

Prada is trying to use 90 % of its fabric from sustainable fabrics basket. Milan 2020 fashion week evidenced this shift, but not with a caution. As its creative head Miuccia Prada said –“Ending Consumerism will not be a part of fashion system as yet.. we must be careful about what we say..”.

Fashion giants Versace and Gucci have not used fur in their collection for past many years. And, many are looking forward to vegan leather as an alternative to leather. Animal cruelty is a big “NO NO” in the fashion world now.

Armani created a capsule collection of 100% recycled polyester for its brand Emporio Armani in FW 2020 Milan week. The watches, accessories, shoes and jewelry are also from regenerated or organic materials. Retailers in Milan are more and more into Positive and Green brands as was seen more in menswear collections of 2020.

London Fashion Week 2020 Spring Summer took lead in socially responsible and ethical business front by announcing Queen Elizabeth II award for sustainable and eco-friendly British designer. It is one of the main Fashion Weeks to go “Fur Free” last year.

Many eco-friendly new fashion start-ups were given a special space to emphasize concern for the environment. If one goes to home page of brand VIN + OMI we see top headings talking about ethical practices. Their models are not epitome of perfection in what we understand by “professional” look, rather the shoot looks like a make shift set where apocalypse survivors are posing in front of camera. Some more names to look out for are – RILEY STUDIO, AV, HANNA FIEDLER, and UNAJI.

Many brands are portraying sustainability in fashion by producing collections in home towns rather than through supply chain. For example, Riona Treacy brand is proudly announcing their in-house design and manufacturing in UK with cutting down on plastic packaging totally.

Green Carpet Award in Milan 2020 Fashion week encouraged sustainable brands giving chance to small and young designers working with ethical practices.

Whether sustainability is a conceptual need or a strategy to woo the green concerns of Generation Z only time can tell. For now, we know that brands are adopting this strategy as a USP in international and national media. We hope to see more and more zero C shows in coming years.  Or, one could see more of what Swedes did – Cancel the Fashion week 2019 in Stockholm due to sustainability concerns.

Given this volatile global environment we should think seriously about introducing sustainability subjects more in our design curriculum in India.

The Regeneration • Issue No.3 by Kyle Calian - issuu


Milan Fall/Winter Fashion Week 2020: How sustainable will it be?






Computer Assisted Assessment (CAA) for Formative Assessments

Keywords: Computer Aided Assessment, Formative Assessment, Online Assessment, Formative Feedback, E-learning

The role and scope of ICT (information and computing technology) expanded
mainly in 1990s and became a hot topic of research in education. The rationale given for using assessment through computers is that due to global development of online learning, online assessment should be used to complement it.

Computer-assisted assessment (CAA) is a broad term which describes the
application of computer technologies to the assessment process. This may include
a variety of activities which assess knowledge, understanding and skills using one
or more technologies such as the Internet, intranets, CD-ROM and optical data
capture systems.

Approaches to Computer Aided Assessment (CAA) can be divided in 2 systems:

1.  Automated marking of paper forms, using optical mark reader (OMR) e.g.,
CAT test for management courses, and

2.  Computerized marking in which questions are presented and responses
assessed entirely by the computer software, with no paper involved e.g.,
the online test and Quizzies.

CAA software can provide immediate supportive feedback for each question,
tailor the answer given, making this particularly suitable for informal self-
assessment and Formative Feedback by tutor. It is fundamentally useful in testing basic knowledge required in any subject like Terminology, and fundamental conceptual knowledge. There are a plethora of Assessment tools that can be used for assessing student’s learning capacity and knowledge gained.

This blog is sharing the experience of designing and running of online quizz that I had made using the Question-Mark Perception software in collaboration with Nottingham Trend University UK.

I had applied it for Fashion UG students in Level 2 of studies where subject of Pattern Making was tested. MCQs were reinforcing their learning in conceptual way, as students tend to ignore it in a skill based subject. It was a five minutes short quizz with ten questions (pictures and visuals were also part of questions) though some students finished it in 3 minutes. The quiz gave me an option to save the questions online that could be used for future batches as well. Gradually a teacher can start making a “question pool” ready to be implemented as when needed in a very organized and quick way. It took me a few days to design, re-think, pilot run, and saving a final copy. Students could run it anytime and at their own place. 

Students’s feedback was quite positive as the reult was immediatly sent to them as soon as they completed the test. The best part, as per student’s perception, was that it was quick and took only few minutes. One of the important piont that was noted in  students’ feedback was that they felt “Marking was fair”.

See the source image

My perception of its pedagogical advantage as a Formative Assessment is
explained below with the help of following points, though some of them
came as realizations only after the execution:
 a. Testing the knowledge gained by setting significant milestones; and
the associated loopholes/gaps in the same before the summative
assessment. One of the learning outcomes of this module is to
acquire and apply basic knowledge of the subject.
 b. Informal, timely, appropriate and correct feedback for the test
 c. Easier method of record generation when used as a means of
 d. A means of supporting the administration part and tracking of
 e. And, last but not the least, as a tool for learning information
management skills – how do you manage answering questions in the limited period?

The use of CAA in universities of UK and US is growing (McKenna, 2001)
and there are at least 3 reasons why we might want to introduce ICT-
based assessment:

  • To avoid disjunction between teaching and assessment modes with e-based learning (a validity issue);
  • To save staff time in marking (an efficiency issue);
  • To enable formative feedback to students (a pedagogic issue)–(Gipps, 2005, p. 173)

In the light of what is written by an author (Fellenz, 2006), and felt by many
others, assessment is not an end in itself but a vehicle for educational
improvement. We should be taking account of our learners’ needs and design the
assessments accordingly. Also, we should be continuously recreating ourselves
and looking for new, innovative and challenging approaches for evaluation.
Hence, e-learning and CAA has an important role to play as an integral part in
today’s educational scenario.

“E-Learning is fundamentally about learning and not about technology.
Strategic development of e-learning should be based on the needs and
demands of learners and the quality of their educational experience.”
(Joint SFEFC/SHEFC e-Learning Group: Final Report 2003, p. 52).

In conclusion, I am of the view that technology, if used and understood from pedagogical point
of view, has a lot of potential and flexibility to offer in current scenario.



1. GIPPS, C.V., 2005. “What is the role for ICT-based assessment in universities?”
Studies in Higher Education (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group) [online]. 30 (2),

2. McKENNA, C., 2001. Introducing computers into the assessment process: what
is the impact upon academic practice? Paper presented at the Higher Education
Close Up Conference 2, Lancaster University, 16-18 July 2001. [Online]
Available from: