Zero-Waste Design

Well-known international expert Elena Ryleeva explains how she is bringing about a sea change in designers attitude to zero-waste management through her interventionist workshops, held across the Asian subcontinent

My apprehension of Zero-Waste clothing, including home textiles is and has ever been deeply connected to my tailoring practice. A few decades ago, when I was intern in bespoke tailoring salon, I was taught to respect fabric and use the smart way of cutting the length.

Much later, when I was teaching Fashion Design in Beijing China and observing local production practice I clearly saw fashion industry’s alarming condition. Knowingly, China produces enormous quantity of all sort of waste, including textile and high level of pollution.

I physically comprehend that such a situation is a red line indicating the urgent necessity of developing sustainable design in Asia due to existing regional gap in understanding the concept of sustainability. For that reason I have decided to dedicate my design, my research and teaching practices to Zero-Waste.

Consequently, I have designed introductory workshops, lectures, and talks to propagate sustainable thinking in now-days world where the industrial and human waste is growing so fast that our natural environment is threatened to be completely replaced by indiscriminate land fields.

Actually the catastrophic consequences of human activity are not only the warning but the harsh reality which all of us are endangered to face. In this case, we need a revolution yet not on the streets but in our minds. Each of us, human beings no matter where he/she lives and in which field he/she works should reduce waste to zero. In all my workshops, as well as, lectures and presentations, I do educate audience about fascinating game changing opportunities of designing without waste.

Needless to say, the principle of Zero Waste design can be traced from prehistoric time to nowadays throughout the glob in all traditional cultures. Nomadic hunters were mindful cloth makers.

Hunters, although exposed to scarcity of resources, had profound understanding of the universe as alive beings, aware that all actions result in symmetrical feedback.

Indian sari, Indonesian sarong, and the Japanese Kimono – all incorporate the concept of no-waste. Ancient Egyptian kalasiris, as well as chiton and peplos of ancient Greece, and Roman tunic were made without fabric leftover from one piece of cloth. Even our home textile pieces, rugs and carpets, curtains and sheers can cause imbalances in nature.

I open my workshop with a question – What is Zero Waste Fashion Design? The answer is simple – Zero-Waste is a method of designing that leaves no waste; the designer completely utilises the chosen piece of fabric. Interestingly enough, in Zero-Waste practice, design thinking and construction/cutting fabric, come together as one holistic process.

I emphasise that Zero-Waste is not just a technique but a philosophy of fabric-making, wherein creativity, intuition, and design ideas evolve through immediate interaction with the material. The fabric can tell a story, trigger emotion and give feelings. The fabric is alive; Zero-Waste designer just needs to read its unique message with great respect.

Above all, the constraints which are imposed by Zero-Waste method become a challenge that can help to create quality clothing and home furnishings.

With regard to my Zero-Waste workshops I am proud to be influencing people – the customers, who buy my zero-waste produce or DIY tutorials, in terms of changing the consumer behavior – “buy less, choose well, do it yourself” ( Vivienne Westwood) as well as generating interest towards Zero-Waste clothing and Zero-Waste life style; some of my students in terms of creating impact on their works and design research that is based on sustainable techniques.

Alongside with introductory workshops, where I cover the concept of Zero-Waste and overview techniques in general, I conduct short courses.

During the course, I demonstrate Zero-Waste through manipulating the fabric directly on the mannequin and introduce practice-led research, so that workshop’ attendees can explore their own ideas. This I call it an exploratory exercise.

The course curriculum combines different approaches to Zero-Waste pattern-making including my own invention- “square wear” which means construction of garment or a cushion cover out of squared pieces of fabrics without any waste left.

Besides, I am successfully continuing to investigate the patterns of geometric shapes. Another approach that I have started recently – I would describe it as “origami technique on body shape”: I use dress form to practice origami in order to construct a garment or bed linen.

These two approaches are related to unconventional pattern cutting. However there is one method which can be practiced as well, and I have a few completed projects – this method uses conventional patterns through adjusting/simplifying the shapes of pattern pieces.

So far, I have introduced my Zero-Waste workshops and talks in Indonesia, Thailand, and most recently in Vietnam, where I received very good response and started collaboration with some private fashion design schools in terms of workshops, lectures, talks, and Zero-Waste exhibitions.

I strongly believe that South Asia has great potential in developing sustainable design approach as there is definitely a growing demand from designers, as well as industry. No doubt, such new born demand must be supported through the spread of sustainable knowledge and applied practices.

Notably, in South East Asia countries there is a growing number of designers offering sustainable alternatives based on traditional textiles, tailoring, dying, and weaving techniques. Certainly, such initiative will help to reduce waste in the region’s garment and home textile industry.

However, in order to achieve better and deeper results, the whole processes of design, production, and communication must be reviewed. Therefore, sustainable design experts, activists and local designers should work together for the sake not only to promote the concept of sustainability to broader audience but also to help with incorporating a new type of production culture.

Currently I am providing Intensive Draping course in Chiang Mai, Thailand where I will introduce Zero-Waste design through draping as well. For this type of workshop I have very encouraging feedback from India. People approach me with many questions and show a great deal of interest to my draping courses. I do find such response quite promising as India is one of the world biggest market; moreover India has prominent textile industry and consequently huge opportunity for the sustainable design development.

My workshops are addressed to the young designers, fashion design students, business owners and actually to all those who really want to learn principals of Zero-Waste designing.

Zero-Waste designers and educators clearly foresee a new horizon of extraordinary opportunities. Therefore, we should invest our creativity and skills into further exploration and propagation of waste-less, design making in order to overcome challenges and construct conscious and sustainable universal fashion and home furnishing enterprise of the future.

As I always say to my students: Zero Waste is a mode of existence; it is a conscious approach not only towards wearable and useable but to the life itself.

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