Decoding Design

From cars to coats, designing for zero waste

From cars to coats, designing for zero waste

Posting in Design

More and more companies are designing waste out of their business models, while others build their businesses on waste reduction.

From a purely economical point of view, producing waste is, of course, a bad business move. But reversing the business systems and manufacturing practices that generate waste -- making molehills out of mountains -- isn't an easy, cheap, or overnight process.

But as USA Today recently found, many large corporations are reaching or nearing their ambitious zero-waste goals. (Or, at least, they say they are. The article notes that third party verification for this metric is scarce.) The armed services are taking notice, too, with the U.S. Army working to eliminate their contributions to landfills.

Manufacturers of cars, airplanes and even potato chips are making significant cuts to their waste streams. But if the textile industry follows suit, that could mean curtains for Looptworks, a clothing company that has built its business on the waste that other apparel companies leave on the table. Fortunately for Looptworks, however, it may take a Herculean effort for apparel factories to eliminate the 60,000 pounds of excess, wasted fabric they produce each week. That is, unless more apparel designers start designing waste out of their products.

Rather than designing apparel pieces and then ordering fabric to be produce the pieces, Looptworks bases its designs on the surplus fabrics it scavenges from textile factories. Think of making dinner based on what's in your fridge right now, rather than taking a recipe to the grocery store.

This approach has limited scalability, of course, since there is only so much leftover wetsuit scraps in the world from which to make laptop sleeves. Looptworks' pieces are all limited editions rather than commodities.

Companies like Loomstate are also founded on a no-waste ethos. But instead of relying on scraps, they're working with all their supply chain partners to collaboratively design waste out of the apparel pieces, from the fabric mills to the manner in which the fabric is cut and sewn. But it all starts with the product design.

To inspire zero-waste thinking in up-and-coming designers, Loomstate challenged students at Parsons the New School for Design to a contest last year. The company is now selling the winning entry, a wool pull-over created by Andria Crescioni, for $345.

Zero waste is vital to long-term business sustainability -- that doesn't mean it's necessarily cheap for consumers. When the Gap starts cranking out zero waste t-shirts, we'll know we've arrived.

Via: USA Today, FastCo.Design

Image: Flickr / JenWaller

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Mary Catherine O'Connor

Contributing Writer

Mary Catherine O'Connor has written for Outside, Fast Company, Wired.com, Smithsonian.com, Entrepreneur, Earth2Tech.com, Earth Island Journal and The Magazine. She is based in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure