Zero Waste Fabric: Sustainable Choices for a Greener Future

Zero Waste Fabric: Sustainable Choices for a Greener Future

Zero Waste Week takes place from 4th-8th September this year and is an annual awareness campaign which has gained momentum each year since its inception in 2008. It always takes place during the first week of September and its aim is to help businesses, homes, schools, and community groups reduce their landfill waste, thereby preserving resources and helping to protect the environment.


The Zero Waste movement gained publicity at the end of the 20th century and since 2002 the movement has been slowly moving from a theory-based concept to an action-based campaign adopted by many communities worldwide.  Bea Johnson in her book Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste, refers to the 5 principles of ZW: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot, known as the 5 Rs.



The Problem with Textile Waste


The textile and fashion industry is one of the main contributors to landfill, and according to a staggering 92 million tons of textile waste is generated every year which equates to a rubbish truck full of clothes dumped on landfill sites every second. As Zero Waste fabric projects are so important for sustainable fashion, this is something we at Fabrics Galore really wanted to talk about and highlight the campaign.  


What is a Zero Waste Project?


A true zero waste project or pattern is one where designers (usually in the fashion industry) utilise 100% of the fabric without any scraps or offcuts to create a single product.  It can also refer to designers re-using leftover fabric scraps or yarns to make other new products such as bags. This not only minimises fabric waste but also has the benefit of maximising resources and saving money.

Pencil case made from fabric offcuts

Use any fabric scraps to make a pencil case or bag


Some fashion brands such as Beyond Retro not only save clothes from landfill for resale but also make new items from vintage clothing which is unsaleable. Other brands like Christy Dawn only produce garments from leftover or discontinued fabrics, otherwise known as deadstock fabric.  


Sustainable Fabric Choices


As we have discussed before in our Guide to Choosing Sustainable Fabric, there are definitely fabric choices we can make which contribute to Zero Waste as they can either be recycled or are biodegradable. Organic cotton, bamboo, TENCEL™, Modal and ECOVERO™ are all examples of sustainable fabrics which are also great to sew with; but remember, we should still aim for Zero Waste when purchasing and sewing with them.


Organic cotton


Which Fabrics are not Recyclable? 

In general, synthetic fabrics are made from petroleum products and are not recyclable. These include polyester, acrylic and nylon which have been popular for their durability and affordability. While they cannot be recycled, it is important to remember they can be re-purposed or up-cycled into another item which is so much better than going to landfill.


Zero Waste Fabric Production Processes


Textile waste can be eliminated if manufacturers take a zero-waste approach common in the circular economy where the principles must be applied early in the design stage and subsequently upheld throughout the lifecycle of the fabric.


A zero-waste approach should also eliminate any toxic waste in the land, water and air around the manufacturing site. Therefore, look for fabrics which meet the global OEKO-TEX 100 standard for textiles which ensures that no harmful chemicals have been used in their production.


OEKO-TEX 100 Fabric


By considering eco design principles, cleaner production methods, and inventory control, fabric manufacturers can go a long way towards zero-waste manufacturing, but they can also go further by insisting their buyers are equally committed to recycling or re-purposing any leftover fabric and garments.


It is noteworthy that traditional garments such as the saree and kimono are both examples of a zero-waste garment where no remnant of fabric is left unused.


A great initiative by the Roake Studio, who make clothing in small batches in sustainable fabrics like linen and industry waste leather, is to practice zero waste garment production in the studio. They bundle up all their offcuts and sell them in large bags for a flat fee.


Creative Uses for Fabric Scraps and Remnants


At Fabrics Galore, we love a remnant upcycle project and our sewing community always surprise us with their creativity, turning fabric scraps into bunting, cushion covers, fabric notice boards and draft excluders.


You can also turn remnants into gifts for friends and family, using smaller fabric pieces to make glasses cases, make-up bags, scrunchies or even dog neckties.


Patchwork quilting is of course the ultimate hobby for using up fabric scraps and all you need to do is choose a few coordinated blenders to bring different fabric offcuts together.


Bunting from fabric offcuts

Fabric Bunting 

Embracing a Sustainable Wardrobe

A sustainable wardrobe is really one which embraces the concept of a capsule wardrobe with coordinating pieces you can wear again and again, using trans-seasonal fabrics which can be worn alone or layered in cooler weather.


Of course, your capsule wardrobe should include sustainable fabrics like organic cotton or bamboo which are recyclable,  or from linens which tend to last forever.  By making environmentally conscious fabric choices and practicing garment longevity, we can all move towards a sustainable wardrobe - even better if you can make your garments from zero waste patterns like the ones we feature below.


Zero Waste and the Sewing Bee


The Great British Sewing Bee always includes Reduce, Re-use and Recycle Week and this year was no exception with contestants competing in the pattern challenge for a zero-waste pair of trousers. The transformation challenge was to make any garment from tote bags and the Made-to-Measure creating a fitted outfit from crochet blankets. Hats off to the Sewing Bee for embracing Zero Waste and drawing attention to the cause.


What is Zero Waste Draping?


If you are a pattern maker and interested in the concept of Zero Waste draping, look no further than the website of The Redress Design Award which is the world’s largest sustainable fashion design competition. In their guide, they explain the technique of Zero Waste Draping, which involves creative utilisation of 100% of the fabric by draping fabrics directly over a model or mannequin.


Zero Waste Sewing Patterns


Zero Waste patterns feature creative pattern cutting where pattern pieces are placed in a jigsaw-like layout to use 100% of the fabric length. One of the most successful pioneers of this technique is Birgitta Helmersson who in her book Zero Waste Patterns, shows you 20 projects to sew your own wardrobe.


Check out the blogger Alexis Bailey, who made it her mission to discover every zero waste pattern available; online pattern retailers like The Foldline also sell many Zero Waste Patterns and have a handy blog on their Top 10 ZW patterns, so there really is no excuse…..


What Fabrics Galore does to Encourage Zero Waste


At Fabrics Galore, we have a permanent remnant bin in the shop where the last random lengths of fabric on a roll are offered for sale at a reduced price. Our website also has a permanent remnant section for just the same purpose. Any fabric remnants which are unsold are donated to local schools for craft projects.


We also work with a local charity called Project Linus who make quilts and blankets for children in need and support them in various ways, whether it is offering discounts to their quilt makers or donating bags of cotton remnants.


Project Linus Quilt


We never throw fabric away and a local rubbish and waste removal company, called First Mile, who operate a Zero-to-landfill rubbish removal model, collect our waste and either recycle it or use any non-recyclable business waste to generate green energy.


Paul also works with his suppliers to seek out quality deadstock fabric which again is offered for sale at a discounted price and offers our customers a chance to buy many fantastic end of line fabrics.


Although we have a long way to go, we actively seek out sustainable fabrics and are proud of our organic cotton jersey range and gorgeous bamboo knits.


How to make sustainable choices for a greener future


From repairing and patching damaged garments to upcycling and re-purposing; from donating unwanted garments and fabrics to charity to ensuring that when purchasing new, we choose fabrics we know we will wear time and time again, many small actions can make a positive difference.

Remember that when it comes to zero waste we are probably all a long way from living a 100% zero waste life, but we can all do something to work towards the ZW goal. Let us know how you are contributing to zero waste and we will feature the best ideas on our social pages to encourage others.

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Welcome to the Fabrics Galore London online store, packed full of beautiful fabrics to inspire your next dressmaking, patchwork quilting, craft or home furnishing sewing project. We stock a huge range of different materials alongside designer fabrics from Liberty, Cath Kidston, Orla Kiely, Laura Ashley, William Morris and Alexander Henry. We source the highest quality fabrics, so whether it be a cotton, linen, viscose, chambray, jersey or wool, we have you covered.Check out our dressmaking fabric for something with drape, fabulous Liberty cotton lawn prints, quilting fabrics for patchwork inspiration or the home furnishing section to pimp your pad. So, what are you waiting for? Let’s get sewing!

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