University of Hawai‘i at Manoa
UH Seal The founding college of the University of Hawai‘i, established 1907 Site Search | Directory
Skip BreadcrumbHome >> Our College >> Impact Stories >> Story

High Style, Low Waste

By Office of Communication Services    Published on 04/30/2015 More stories >>

Students
resuse existing textiles (left) or more mindfully create new ones (right) in
their fashion design.

Students resuse existing textiles (left) or more mindfully create new ones (right) in their fashion design.

Dressmaking may not be high on most people’s list of waste-generating activities, but in fact, between 15 and 20 percent of each bolt of cloth ends up being discarded when garment pieces are cut out. Between that and clothing that’s worn and then discarded, the US throws away up to 21 billion pounds of textile waste a year! But Assistant Professor Ju-Young Kang is leading her fashion design students to challenge these numbers in two ways, both by more sustainably creating garments from whole cloth and by “up-cycling” already-made garments.

These two pursuits are known as pre- and post-consumer zero-waste design. The first is a sustainable design technique that reduces textile waste at the design’s decision, pattern-making, knitting, and draping stages. The technique combines efficiency with aesthetics by more mindfully creating garments, placing the pieces on the fabric to maximize the use of space and using the scraps that are generated as design elements. Constraints can actually unlock creativity, as the designer has to think in new ways to work around them. This is beautifully evident in the 2013 UHM senior fashion show segment showcasing Dr. Kang’s students’ designs, “Écobilan,” which also incorporates natural dyeing techniques using local plants, flowers, vegetables, fruits, and coffee.

Using waste scraps of cloth as design elements adds interest
and sustainability to garments.

Using waste scraps of cloth as design elements adds interest and sustainability to garments.

The following year, Dr. Kang spearheaded a segment entitled “Reinvented Culture” in the 2014 fashion show, focusing on a “recycle, reuse, and rewear” approach to waste management. The students hit lanai sales and thrift shops for second-hand clothes and other recycled materials, from couture gems to short-lived fad-wear of yesteryear, then recut and resewed their finds into cutting-edge garments of their own.

Dr. Kang and her students are not alone. Due to the increasing consumer awareness of environmental issues specific to textile and apparel production, as well as firms’ commitment to putting sustainable practices into production, a growing number of fashion retailers, including Gap, American Apparel, Eileen Fisher, H&M, and Levi Strauss, promote sustainable concepts in their operational practices including material preparation, manufacturing, distribution, and retailing. Designers such as Mark Liu make zero-waste one of their trademarks. Of the thousands of tons of garments/textiles that consumers dispose of every year, as much as 95% could be re-worn, recycled, or not generated in the first place—nothing ever need go to waste.