Design efficiency – zero-waste patterns

Design efficiency – zero-waste patterns
© Vladimir Gerasimov, #102768385, 2018, source:
Textile and clothing
Cost savings:
Because waste is minimised the cost of discarding it is reduced or eliminated
Resource type:
Resource saving:
Each year in the UK, up to 200 000 tonnes of waste can be avoided during garment manufacturing; a balance between the amount of time (and associated cost) that it takes manufacturers to make the zero-waste designs needs to be factored in the cost-savings equation
Investment cost:
For zero-waste patterns, no specific investment is required, as alternative designs and construction methods are used; for pattern optimisation, investment depends on the software package purchased

Research by WRAP estimates that around 200 000 tonnes of waste are produced during garment manufacturing each year in the UK. The research provides detail on the combined losses for cotton and polyester garments. The data suggests that between 10 % and 20 % of losses are incurred in the finishing and making-up stage of manufacturing.

Citing examples, a white paper by Reverse Resouces puts the manufacturing waste figure as high as 25 %. What's more, apparel industry professionals in the USA say that some 15-20 % of the fabric used to produce clothing winds up in landfills because it is cheaper to throw away offcuts than to recycle them.

Design efficiency improvements can significantly reduce this material use and waste. The concept of 'zero-waste' design aims to engineer and create patterns to eliminate waste by utilising every part of the fabric.


Alternatives for achieving zero-waste patterns include:

  • Creating a garment pattern with sections that fit together like a puzzle
  • Optimising cutting layouts or templates that waste no fabric
  • Using one-piece construction – draping fabric directly onto a mannequin, then tucking, layering and sewing it
  • Designing garments with fewer seams
  • Using heat-moulding instead of seams

As zero-waste design practices become better known, more examples and best practices are available, such as:

Fabric optimisation: Although not quite zero waste, fabric optimisation is very close to it. Optimisation occurs when more garment pieces can be cut from the available material, which can increase productivity. Exploring creative fabric optimisation concepts can have aesthetic as well as resource-efficiency benefits. For example, by redefining the aesthetics and construction of the basic t-shirt through the use of digital tools, ‘The T-Shirt Issue’ have created highly unusual and individual shapes and silhouettes while optimising fabric use to zero-waste levels. 

Pattern optimisation software: Creative pattern engineering and fabric optimisation at the design stage can further be supported through the use of pattern- and marker-making software. Software programs such as Optitex Digitiser allow the designer to visualise their design in 3D which is simultaneously displayed in 2D pattern pieces.

3D printing, 3D knitting and other technologies are expected to advance in the future, resulting in more commercially viable zero-waste designs.

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