Updated: Feb 19, 2020
By Alexandra Baddour
If you've ever seen a commercial sewing pattern – whether it was you, a parent, or a grandparent using it – you know that cutting out pieces of fabric to create clothes can also create a lot of wasted fabric. Scale that waste up from a home sewer to a clothing manufacturer and you start to realize just how much goes to waste in the fashion industry.
This wasn't always the case, of course. Back when everyone made their own clothes from cloth they or their neighbors had made, people were careful with how they used each piece of fabric. In ancient Greece and Rome, women would take a large rectangle of cloth, add some pins and a belt, and they had a dress! Even the Vikings and medieval Europeans, though they did cut their fabric into pieces and sew them back together in different ways, were careful not to let much, if any, fabric to waste.
As making fabric and sewing clothes got cheaper and faster, it became less important to conserve fabric. Fashion evolved and could no longer be made out of simple geometric shapes, so pieces didn't fit together anymore.
Zero-waste fashion aims to create modern garments with an old-fashioned emphasis on "waste not; want not." It ranges from easy A-line skirts, to Timo Rissanen's simple coat, to Holly McQuillan making multiple articles of clothing out of a single piece of fabric.