We've always been careful to squeeze as much as we can out of a bolt of fabric and Trish's thrifty nature means we've embraced creative re-use from the very early days of Smoking Lily... However, in 2016 our studio made the commitment to become 100% zero-fabric-waste, and that means we haven't thrown away even the smallest scrap that has come though our production in 6 years!
This might not sound so remarkable if you haven't worked in fashion production before (oh, do you want to? we are hiring!), but hear this: globally, approximately 15% of fabric intended for clothing ends up on the cutting room floor. This is the fabric that was damaged or defective, the bits of fabric leftover from cutting out a pattern, the selvedges (edges of a bolt of fabric), etc. In much of fashion production, this 15% goes to the landfill... but not at SL HQ. Oh no, we use it ALL.
Through lots of hard work and innovation we have found ways (oh, so many ways...) of using up our fabric scraps, and it starts right at the very beginning, when we design a pattern.
Pattern pieces are sometimes modified so that they "puzzle" together on a bolt of fabric with as little waste as possible. This is why some items have seams up the back (like our Ina tops, for example). By taking a part of the pattern that could have been a single piece of fabric and turning it into two, we cut down on the overall "waste" (or more accurately in our case, leftover fabric!), that a pattern creates.
Before we begin to cut out a pattern, we trim off the selvedges in long strips. The selvedges are the edges of a bolt of fabric and may have small pin-holes, threads hanging out, or in the case of woven fabric, are finished with another colour or pattern. This is unavoidable "waste" as this fabric is not consistent with the rest of the bolt. Instead of tossing it, we roll it into balls of Salvage Yarn. This is used by our customers to make everything from braided rugs to woven baskets, wall-hangings to chunky crochet project bags.
Of course, there will always be some leftover fabric in between pattern pieces so we've developed new products to use up these bits. Our Kids line is made up entirely from our jersey scraps, as are our Zero-Waste Underlovelies, OOAK Cropped Fundra's and many of our accessories (Wrist Warmers, Headbands, Slouchy Hats).
With our woven scrap we make Placemats, Sleep Masks, Scrunchies, Cocktail Napkins, Quilts, One-of-a-Kind Saskia Tops and our new Homeward Bound Tops. We also make Craft Kits, so you can have your turn at making something beautiful with our special pieces!
Anything that's too small to be sewn into something new is used as stuffing for meditation cushions, Kid's Hassacs (floor pillows) and soft sculptures. You can find these items in our store - we don't put them online as they are really heavy!
It is a lot of effort to keep our zero-fabric-waste commitment, but we think it's worth it. In our first full year of working this way (2017), we ran the numbers and realized we had saved the equivalent of a whopping 2145 meters of fabric from the landfill. By the end of this year I'd estimate that we'll have saved over 15,000 meters since 2016.
We can work this way because we do everything in-house which makes us aware and accountable for our waste. We see the waste being created and we work amongst it until it finds a purpose. Now that we know the potential for every little bit, it's second-nature for us to save, reuse and think of new ways to re-purpose our scraps. I don't think we could imagine working another way!
Here are a few other ways we keep our studio as friendly to the environment and people as possible:
Looking for some zero-waste resources?
Some local businesses diverting fabric from the landfill:
More about fabric waste and environmental impacts from fashion production:
Have another resource to add? Contact us and we'll keep updating as needed.