Did you know that approximately 15% of fabric is wasted during the manufacture of a typical garment? Faced with this challenge, at adidas over the past two years we have steadily increased our efforts to reduce waste and components while upholding the premium quality and performance of our products. This is where the “Low Waste” project plays a key role.
What is low waste?
The “Low-Waste Fashion” concept emerged as a sustainable fashion trend a few years ago; this was the name given to a way of cutting and sewing a garment without any scrap left over. Actually, it is not a new cutting technology as garments such as a European chemise, a Japanese kimono or an Arabic djellaba are all made according to similar principles: they are cut from rectangular pieces of fabric, which are rarely shaped and with very little or no waste in the making process.
The low-waste approach is innovative. It’s a new way of thinking, an evolution of the current techniques and a challenge for our existing processes. In fact, the process for making a low-waste garment is totally different from the process for a normal garment.
The old way
Let’s talk about the normal way of garment cutting, which you can see from a tailor or your grandmother. They create some paper patterns in different shapes, and then they try to place them as close as possible on a piece of fabric and cut them out. In the end, you will find scrap all over the floor. If you wonder where those scraps come from, just take one of your T-shirts and look at the neckline and armhole. Every curve line on your garment costs some wastage, which comes from the gaps between piece to piece and the edge area of the fabric.
The process is very similar to what you do when baking cookies. When you use different shapes of cutters on the dough, there will always be left-over, no matter how close you cut out each piece. Instead, for a low-waste style, you have to make full use of the fabric you have by using straight seams and doing only clever cuts. It’s like designing a 2-D jigsaw puzzle, and then constructing the elements to produce a 3-D garment!
My low-waste challenge
For me, as a pattern maker of women’s garments, the biggest challenge is how to use the low-waste technique to make the garment, while maintaining the elegance of a piece of apparel for women.
In fact, as we all know, a woman’s body has natural curves. The low-waste approach, as discussed, does not allow curves in the fabric-cutting process to avoid waste. This was quite a challenge!
Impossible is nothing
At the beginning of this project, I could hardly find a starting point. I was sitting at my desk, staring at a poster of a football player, and thinking about patterns. Then suddenly, I got inspired. A football!!! That second, I felt all pentagons on that football are as shiny as the Jules Rimet trophy! It suddenly made me realise that, following a specific mathematical method, flat pentagons can be combined to make a ball, so smart combinations of rectangles and triangles can also work for imitating irregular 3-D shapes for low-waste garments. For example, using squares and rectangles in the main pattern and connecting them through stretchy inserts.
And after multiple attempts, I made it in the end and also developed some guidelines for my colleagues who might continue doing low-waste styles in the future.
Looking back at these two years on low waste, I feel really proud of being a part of this project! What I learnt is that you never know when and where the inspiration comes from, so always being open-minded, observant and creative is crucial!
Read more about Low Waste here!