Zero-waste design isn’t a new technology or material. Instead, it’s a new way of thinking—a philosophy that forces you to challenge existing techniques and become a smarter designer. Technique-wise, it involves fitting all the flat pieces of your clothing pattern like a jigsaw puzzle so no fabric is wasted. Considering that roughly 15 percent of the fabric is discarded when a typical garment is made, the cumulative effect of leaving behind no waste has far-reaching environmental consequences. More than that, however, zero waste about working within those constraints to invent beautiful new forms of fashion.

Mark Liu, zero waste, eco-fashion. sustainable fashion, green fashion, sustainable style, Ask a Designer

FASHION AS GASTRONOMY

It might be easier to understand the significance of zero-waste fashion if we compared it to the revolution in haute cuisine. Just like fashion designers, most chefs don’t invent new techniques. Rather, they modify preexisting recipes by mixing different styles, genres, and trends.

Pattern-making has changed very little in the past hundred years.

So-called “innovation” is really a fusion of different references. Although there are hypothetically unlimited options for creativity, most people tend to follow predictable routines. Pattern-making, for instance, has changed very little in the past hundred years. But unlike in food, our lack of originality in fashion is actually poisoning the planet, and we urgently need to invent alternatives.

Mark Liu, zero waste, eco-fashion. sustainable fashion, green fashion, sustainable style, Ask a Designer

FASHION AS SCIENCE

Two of the world’s top chefs, Heston Blumenthal and Ferran Adrias, have turned to the science of molecular gastronomy to challenge the fundamentals of cooking. Both have held the title for world’s best restaurant. They’ve also invented impossible new foods, from egg-and-bacon ice cream to foie gras cotton candy. Their food may sound frivolous, but these chefs have learned to use techniques and a level of knowledge previously reserved for scientists. Adrias has even closed his restaurant until 2014 to pursue his research.

Zero waste is avant-garde cuisine’s fashion equivalent because it challenges the basics of making clothes.

Zero waste is avant-garde cuisine’s equivalent in fashion because it challenges the fundamentals of making clothing. Behind the seemingly effortless designs is a growing body of research that draws on different branches or science and mathematics. It requires pattern-making know-how, a working understanding of sustainability principles, and an inquisitive mind that is constantly learning.

FASHION AS ART

When it comes down to it, however, zero-waste fashion is still an art form. It’s like writing poetry. At first, it’s difficult to write in rhyme and meter. In a sonnet, you must work with a limit of 14 lines. Only when you devote yourself to this medium can you tell a story and evoke emotion. Anyone can drape a rectangle of fabric, make a kimono, or stick some leftovers on a dress. But to make a zero-waste tailored ensemble for high fashion requires an entirely different level of skill.

Zero waste requires smarter, more fearless designers who can see beyond drape and cut.

I hope that my zero-waste fashion research becomes an incubator for the fashion techniques of the future. They started out as a “cute” idea, but my designs have become increasingly more complex and sophisticated with each passing season. Zero waste requires deliberate consideration, along with smarter, more fearless designers who can see beyond drape and cut. Zero-waste design is definitely not easy, but it’s one of the more creative tools the fashion industry has to build a brighter future.

+ Mark Liu