Zero waste living is a quickly-growing trend as the awareness of our global waste and plastic pollution crises rise — and it’s only natural that after implementing some of the common low waste swaps in your life, you’ll begin to look for zero waste fashion, too.
What is Zero Waste Fashion?
Similar to other zero waste use cases, zero waste fashion is all about reusing, creating a circular system, and producing no trash.
What’s different from zero waste fashion compared to other zero waste products is that the zero waste aspect of clothing/accessories is more about the production stage whereas most low waste items are about the use stage.
Zero waste fashion is about utilizing existing materials to their full capacity and not producing textile or other material waste. In contrast, while some zero waste products are made from eco-friendly materials, they are more focused on helping the consumer or user of their products refuse single-use products in the future.
Since fashion is always reusable (unless it’s a fast-fashion dress that’s worn once to a party and tossed out…), zero waste fashion is more about how the fashion items are produced or sourced.
There is pre-consumer zero waste fashion, where brands use recycled materials and/or cut their patterns in a way that results in no textile waste.
And then there is post-consumer zero waste fashion which is about using clothing and accessories that already exist through buying secondhand.
There are plenty of resources for secondhand fashion (like this one with 7 online thrift stores!) so this article will focus mostly on pre-consumer zero waste.
How Does a Brand Achieve Zero Waste Production?
There are two main approaches to achieve zero waste in the garment creation process.
Zero Waste Design: Designers can use special pattern-cutting processes to reduce or eliminate textile waste.
Zero Waste Production: This is when designers reuse excess fabric in other pieces. It’s common for brands to use the remaining fabric leftover from garment production for smaller accessories like headbands or bags.
Beyond creating no new waste, fashion brands can also help reduce existing waste by using existing materials like leftover deadstock that has been discarded by big garment factories, upcycled post-consumer materials such as rubber tires headed to the landfill, or other recycled materials for their collections.
Another aspect important for circular fashion brands to consider is their packaging. Some ways to use sustainable and/or waste-free packaging are recycled paper boxes, recycled or compostable polybag mailers, and cloth bags made from upcycled fabric.
A not-quite-so-tangible waste to consider is the energy used to produce the fashion brand’s products. A truly zero waste brand will also use renewable energy throughout its supply chain.
Zero Waste Fashion Brands
Below is a list of low waste and zero waste fashion brands paving the way for a more circular fashion industry. Not all of them follow every practice listed above, but they are certainly making major headways that go above and beyond the rest of the fashion world.
Note that this guide includes partners and affiliate links. As always, I only include brands that meet strict standards for ethics, sustainability, and aesthetics!
tonlé is a leader in zero waste fashion, being one of the first and only sustainable fashion brands to implement a fully circular system. The brand begins by sourcing deadstock (leftover fabric) from large garment factories in Cambodia.
The next step is making use of that discarded material. First, designers and makers create pieces with the larger cuts of the remnant fabric. The smaller scraps are cut and sewn into yarn which is then woven or knit into new pieces. Any remaining waste is crafted into handmade paper!
tonlé also uses solar energy for their workshop and uses completely recycled and recyclable packaging. And to close the final stage, tonlé is working on a take-back program for their customers as well.
Swedish Stockings creates their high-quality pantyhose from nylon waste which is in stark contrast to the conventional stocking and hosiery industry which uses virgin synthetic yarn to create cheap pairs of tights that often tear within just a few wears.
The sustainable fashion brand produces their upcycled hose in a zero waste factory that conserves and reuses water, minimizes emissions, and reduces and recycles waste. Swedish Stockings also has a take-back pantyhose recycling program that ensures there isn’t even waste at the end of the lifecycle of their products.
Ecoalf is an innovative eco-fashion label producing garments and accessories from 100% recycled materials. The brand uses recycled plastic, nylon, cotton, wool, and tires (for their rubber flip flops) as well as 100% recycled paper packaging. The company is also working to reduce their emissions — they report that they save 13% on emissions overall by manufacturing local-to-them in Spain.
Zero Waste Daniel is an innovator in the circular fashion space. In fact, he is introducing his zero waste production process to larger brands like Eileen Fisher and Miakoda. (If you’re a designer, you can actually work with Daniel to make your production zero waste as well.)
To create their zero waste clothing, Daniel uses his signature “ReRoll technique which applies “the art of sewing to the scraps that abound due to the fashion industry’s wasteful practices.” In addition to creating no fabric waste, the brand uses recycled and recyclable materials in their shipping, packaging, and office materials.
5.) Study New York
Study New York uses zero waste cutting techniques in their production process as much as possible and they make their patterns to ensure the most efficient possible use of their fabric.
Despite their efforts, some of Study New York’s designs leave behind some fabric waste — which is why they’ve partnered with other New York City businesses to repurpose their scrap fabric. And then any scraps still left are recycled.
Other Approaches to Zero Waste Fashion:
6. Patagonia’s Worn Wear (Secondhand)
While not originally designed with zero waste practices, Patagonia’s collection of used products is a great way to support a more circular fashion industry by giving a second life to used clothing and gear. And many of the items they sell on Worn Wear are in near-new quality. I bought a jacket through Worn Wear last year, and if I hadn’t known where I got it from, I honestly would’ve mistaken it for brand new.
7. For Days (Closed-Loop Model)
For Days is helping build more circular systems in the fashion industry with their closed-loop approach. The brand creates 100% recyclable products, designing their pieces with the end in mind from the very beginning. After you’re done with a piece from For Days, you can return your item to be upcycled and swap it for something new.
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