Review of the Yield Exhibition (Zero Waste)

zandra_rhodesToday we have a guest entry from Jasmin Wilkins who lives in Wellington New Zealand -which is fortuitous for us as you’ll see. Jasmin is a long time enthusiast member of our forum who works as a project manager. Like many F-I regulars, she’s no intellectual slouch (a background in physics and math) rounded with a broad appreciation of artistry. I really enjoyed Jasmin’s review and hope you will too.
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I’ve been very interested in the conversations around zero or minimum waste, and thought other readers might be interested in my impressions of the Making Fashion Without Making Waste Yield Exhibition I attended at the Dowse Museum in New Zealand. The exhibition consists of thirteen works, displayed in four groups. Each work has a description of the design ethos, an image of the pattern used, and (luckily for you!), linked online content. All the patterns for these garments can be viewed on site. The Dowse kindly provide WiFi and smartphone readable 2D scannable links with each work to enable access to the online content – you can get to the homepage to join in the journey. There is also a facebook page.

As a whole, one of the first things that struck me about the exhibition is the variety of thoughts behind the designs, and how many questions were posed by the way works were juxtaposed.

The first two works as I entered were Julian Roberts, with a red and white cotton dress, and a dress, pants, and vest collaboration between Genevieve Packer (textile design) with Holly McQuillian (pattern). I’m keen on Julian’s ideas (the ‘tube’ for the body, the three dimensional nature of shapes created) but I felt less enthused in person – the red and white together seemed costume, rather than clothing. The fabric seemed too firm, and it would take an amazing person to wear the dress, as opposed to the dress wearing them.

Holly_Genevieve_patternI loved Genevieve and Holly’s collaboration (pattern at right)! There was something about the wonderful fabric with so many patterns, darker versions in the lower half, lighter for the dress bodice and vest, which were very subtle and yet harmonious. The patterns reminded me of Islamic tile work, with apparent simplicity and a geometric form that still appears organic. The outfit was coherent – the wonderful ‘pouf’ of the sleeve reflected in the skirt, and the strong linear flow of the patterns within the curves of the pattern pieces felt enormously satisfying to look at. The repeat of textile patterns in light and dark colourways really drew the elements together. This I could imagine wearing for many years, and although flamboyant in some ways, it seemed fundamentally flattering.

For me, the contrast in the fabrics between these works – soft, complex patterns in gentle colour variants versus firm fabric with strong blocks of colour – underlined the critical importance of the right textile design to realise the pattern.

The next group was Timo Risannen (mens leggings and jacket), Caroline Priebe for Uluru (a shift, with gorgeous back pleating) and Natalie Chanin (a dress and vest).

Timo’s menswear was really interesting – the denim jacket reminded me of Issey Miyake’s Vogue 1328 pants, the geometric form becoming triangular around the limb, almost creating a batwing jacket, featuring the selvedges and stitching as a strong visual design element. The leggings were lovely – the organic forms of the pattern pieces and complex construction, combined with striped fabric, made for a visually satisfying outcome, in which the patterns were broken in a highly intentional way. Timo’s pattern is shown at right below.

timo_yield_exhibtion_patternCaroline’s shift dress was attractive in person, the level of movement in the fabric and the shape made it feel effortless, and free flowing over the form. The pleating at the back was appealing, and the dress looked really well finished. Interestingly, it could have been one of many flowing shifts, there was no design element that really stood out for me.

Natalie’s dress and vest are simple, well executed, and feature double layered fabric, with hand stitching around cutouts in simple organic forms (crescents, petals, ovoids, leaves) creating the fabric depth and pattern. Each dress is done by a single stitcher, who signs the work. These remind me a little of a Tibetan chupa, the pattern is completely different, but the simplicity of the form, layering, and the use of ties to manage fit somehow seem to echo some elements of Tibetan dress.

This group made me wonder – how far does zero waste need to be different from ‘wasteful’ production? Is it successful if the low/zero waste product is, in many ways, unable to be differentiated from ‘wasteful’ production and stands (or falls) purely on the appeal to wearer?

The next group had the wonderful Zandra Rhodes dress at the centre (shown top right), flanked by David Telfer’s duffel coat, Sam Formo with a tux, a short Carla Fernandez dress, and a male suit from Jennifer Whitty.

The Zandra Rhodes dress is amazing. Thirty plus years old, and stunning. The colours are fabulous, much more alive than they appear online, and you can see where some of Julian’s influences come from (those sleeves, a wonderful tunnel through pleated squares) and also the strong geometric elements from Vionnet in her thirties phase plus a touch of kimono/chupa. The textile print is integral to the design, and the trims (braided button in red for the sleeve when folded, the cord) are impeccably colour matched, and lift the garment from attractive to compelling. An incredible demonstration of how a coherent, well thought out and executed design and fabric can be a powerful statement.

david_pattern_yieldDavid Telfer had a different focus with his duffel coat (construction and pattern schematic at right) which focuses on minimising seams to reduce production costs as well as maximising yield … theoretically, this is appealing, and the snap-toggles are one of the most unusual I’ve ever seen (duffel toggles that ‘snap’ together). The incredibly utilitarian and square nature of the garment make me feel rather like it is the soviet duffel coat – I can’t help wondering if some bias or another seam or two could lift it from utilitarian and effective to emotionally appealing?

Sam Formo has a highly technical tux–ish jacket – it is attractive, the most exciting and a-hah moment for me is the fastenings are the fabric, threaded through the garment in soft squares. The effective use of these to create a self fastening as a feature, and the reflection of the small square fastenings with a large square collar, with tux tails, gives a light, witty feel to the garment. It feels light, fun, and wearable, and the use of patterned fabric for the fastenings and collar highlights the unique elements.

Carla’s short dress, made of geometric, shaggy woven elements is visually appealing – the corrugations in the skirt and the bare back below the square yoke lift a simple structured form into a more complex and interesting garment, balancing the open edge at the lower back yoke with the open corrugations in the skirt.

Jennifer Whitty’s suit is interesting, yet I get the feeling that ‘using up’ all the material resulted in clutter in the design, and unfinished edges. The trousers are relatively simple, but it feels like the jacket ended up with ‘Klingons’ to use up the left over fabric dangling to decorate the jacket. I would love to see her work if the fabric was used to finish the edges rather than ‘decorate’ the jacket.

Looking at these works reinforced to me the inter-relatedness of the textiles with design, how design is influenced by wanting to ‘use up’ material, and where the magical design space is between utilitarian production and clutter caused by the need to use everything – and whether using a lot of fabric is really zero waste anyway …

The final group was Yeohlee Teng’s skirt, Tara St James flexible jacket, and Julia Lumsden’s mens jacket.

Yeohlee’s skirt seemed rather impractical – the raw edges meant long term ongoing use was unlikely, and it just didn’t seem to be very useful or purposeful. I suspect another fabric would be more functional. Fundamentally, the skirt just made me wonder – if you use all the fabric, but it won’t last, is it worthwhile?

julia_shirt_cuffJulia’s jacket was beautifully constructed and finished, in a light butter colour, and somehow, just felt hopeful – and I love the images of the shirt (I couldn’t see it properly under the jacket). The quality of the work made me think that this garment would last, and the effort in the design makes it timeless. I’m going to be interested to see her future work. A photo detailing her shirt’s cuff design is at right.

Tara’s flexible jacket was really appealing – it reminded me of the 1980’s, but transcended the era. The fastenings that provide flexibility also create a feature and focus which helps the jacket transcend the simple geometric pattern, combined with the flowing fabric.

SUMMARY:
Fabric matters – it needs to be the right movement, colour, and design to work with the pattern, and custom fabric can be amazing.

Pattern structures – organic patterns give rise to curves, geometric patterns are often linear, both elements contribute to successful designs. Too much in either direction often doesn’t work. Either type, done well, end up as a complex jigsaw.

Construction complexity
– the price for excess simplicity is lack of appeal, equally, excessive construction results in incoherence … Walk the Line!

Fabric usage
– Depends on the lifecycle of use. I’m not sure on this one! Is it OK to use twice as much fabric as long as you use it all?? What if the garment gets worn much more frequently??

Finishing
– if all the fabric is to be used, the result needs to be finished to ensure it can continue to be used in my opinion.

Appeal
– Fundamentally, someone needs to want to wear the garment, and feel they look, and feel, great. Usability and attractiveness counts.
Several designs caused me to wonder – if you use all the fabric, but the finish means it won’t last … is it worth it? Should zero waste include the life cycle of the garment? If it will be worn often, is it worth using more fabric, customising the fabric, and using complex constructions? If you minimise fabric and seams, is it OK if people just use it when they need it, but don’t chose to wear it? Ultimately, I came away with more questions than answers … which is, I think, a sign of a good exhibition.
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Note: Timo, Holly and Julian are regular visitors to Fashion-Incubator. Others may be also I just don’t know of it.
Related entries:
Zero fabric waste fashion design
Reverse Pattern Puzzle: zero waste
Zero Waste Fashion pt.2

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22 comments

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Thanks for this great post, Kathleen & Jasmin. I look forward to checking out this exhibit when it comes to NY in September. In the meantime, I really enjoyed this review – I hadn’t heard of the zero waste design movement before (perhaps I’ve just had my head under a rock!) As someone who can’t bear to throw fabric scraps away, I love the concept, but agree with the question Jasmin poses – isn’t there more to the idea of zero-waste than just the initial use of fabric? It seems to me like the least wasteful clothing design is a piece that appeals to the purchaser/wearer for a long time, and whose fabric and construction last a long time. A piece of clothing that uses an entire rectangle of fabric, but ends up in the trash after a year because it started to pill or fray or went out of fashion seems like it would defeat the initial point of “zero-waste.” But back to the exhibit – it’s a great design challenge with some really interesting pieces — it’s especially great to see the patterns! Thanks again for a thought-provoking review.

  2. Hi Kathleen and Jasmin! That you for such a detailed and insightful review of Yield! I was very interested to read your perspectives on the work, from someone with an in depth understanding of the industry and how clothes are actually put together. One of the goals of Yield was to demonstrate the range of aesthetics possible from this approach as it is a common critique that “everything will look the same”, and i really get a sense from your review that there were many differing responses to the aesthetics on offer. I’m really pleased the exhibition made you think and question – hopefully you learnt something as well?

  3. Jasmin says:

    Thanks Holly, I had a great time looking, thanks for organising!! Yes, the range of aesthetics was really interesting. Constraints can result in really interesting outcomes in the hands of creative people, and in a lot of ways I think the ability to waste results in ‘lazy’ solutions.
    Mind you, valuing the constraint more than the outcome can result in over-thought, heavily compromised designs. The biggest thing I came away thinking about was balance – that the balance between the elements in the summary list – fabric, pattern, construction complexity, yardage/fabric usage, finishing and x-factor appeal – is important. To have balance, I think the designer / patternmaker / textile artist need a really clear vision of their design ethos. Otherwise, it’s kinda like the garment pattern re-draft from measurements when offshoring – the result often seems to lose any life, and become an exercise in cost – efficiency.

    Creating zero fabric waste is a fantastic ‘sustainable clothing’ constraint, and after this exhibition, I’m thinking about all the other factors such as cost per wear, cost of durability, and the need to be desirable :-)

    Personally, I decided a long time ago it was better to put a lot of effort into one garment I really want, and use it often, feeling good in it, than to create disposable fashion. I think the zero waste / sustainable clothing lifecycle relationship will be an interesting one :-) If it’s gonna last, people really need to enjoy and want to wear it! And with capitalism (and waste) faltering, it may be time. All we need now is for people to stay the same size for ten or twenty years to get the garment usage …..

  4. rayna edmonds says:

    Thank you so much for the detailed recap of this exhibition. I like the idea of zero waste very much, and I would like to see more done with the concept. It would have been fascinating if any of the exhibitors took the idea a step further and provided “theoretical” costing information for each of their garments in a high-end fabric, and in a lower-end fabric to compare differences. Also, was curious if any of these garments made it to a production floor yet? I’m curious to know about any challenges they came across, whether it was in a local factory, or an off-shore one. I understand that the organization is a non-profit, but to truly get the idea of zero-waste adopted across different product areas there has to be that element of commercialization included, wouldn’t you agree? Who knows if zero fabric waste could end up costing more due to sewing intricacy…

  5. Barb Taylorr says:

    This gives a whole new meaning to my favorite tag line from a dear old draper I used to work with, “Any rectangle can be a garment.”

  6. Matthew Pius says:

    Thanks for the review — I also find the zero-waste concept interesting. I also had some of the same questions as Jasmin on looking through the images. Particularly that many of the designs seem “oversized” or “drapey” which does help to provide good fit if you’re using mostly geometric shapes in the pattern. However, it’s easily conceivable that some of these designs would use more fabric than a traditional design that was more fitted (even accounting for waste in the latter).
    Another thought that I had was that zero-waste doesn’t need to be on a per-garment basis. It seems that all of these designs were done that way – so that each garment is cut out of a rectangle of cloth with no off-cuts. But for manufacturing (rather than the home sewist) it would be just as economical if the pattern required that 2 or 4 or 10 be cut at a time in order to have zero-waste. This could then be a result with interlocking shapes that fit together on the marker with all the smaller bits for the batch coming from either end.
    Wish that I could see the exhibit in person.

  7. Carrie Mantha says:

    This is so interesting! Perhaps a slight tangent, but I’ve been wondering why there doesn’t appear to be more software/computing power applied to this area. I watched someone painstakingly creating a super-efficient marker today (which was a neat experience in itself!), and it occurred to me that this is the type of project computer programmers would generally love to get their hands on. Is the hand-creation of markers just a vestige of the industry, or is there something I’m not recognizing that limits the ability of computers to use algorithms and simulations to create the lowest-waste markers?

  8. Jasmin says:

    Hi Carrie,

    I’m guessing (I have no practical knowledge in this sphere) that the lack of a computer programme is down to investment costs / complexity.
    I would be relatively easy to just jam everything in the minimum amount of space with a computer. Balancing the inputs (pieces, goods width (& variance) pattern repeat, grain, error tolerances for cutting etc) to create an efficient marker which allowed for a certain amount of input variance would be challenging.
    The variance would be needed because when you have a ‘perfect’ marker with no leeway, you need equal perfection in your goods, your cutting, and every other element involved. Although perfection is a nice ideal, the pressure it places for perfection in all component elements means it is incredibly expensive, as all elements need to be error free and predictable.
    Generally speaking, achieving low error rates (and building in leeway for small errors) is doable, and returns value. Zero error (or variance) is only doable at significant expense which may not yield sufficient return to be worthwhile (usually life or death stuff).
    So I’m guessing the ‘efficient’ (or low waste) marker, is one which still work if the yardage is slightly narrower or wider (say 1/2 inch), or other variances occur, as it allows for use of ~98% of yardage received. (made up numbers, but you get the gist). However (and this would be the biggie) the garment must not be compromised (eg way off grain / bad pattern match etc)

    It would be interesting to see if you could set up a computer programme that given coefficients for error (min/max width of yardage, error tolerance for cutting, grain requirements, pattern repeat etc) whether you could come up with the most efficient yield marker for the inputs.
    The human ‘art element’ is probably many years of experience, and I suspect if you observed a couple of very very good people, and got them to talk it through over many different layouts, you could write such a programme. The hard bit would be the ‘fuzzy factor’ of balancing and prioritising requirements (if you are slightly off grain, is that OK if you save x ?. What if you have a couple of areas with an unusual pattern match?).
    I’m sure you could do it, you’d just need to start out with a really clear vision of what low waste was, and what you really needed it to do (all the inputs, all the outputs, all the processes). Some feedback processing on real life outcomes would be a good plan too. Could be fun!
    It wouldn’t be cheap though!! In reality, the limit wouldn’t be algorithms and simulation, it would be the ability to understand all the inputs, define how to prioritise the outcomes (including low waste), and get a really usable marker.

  9. Carrie Mantha says:

    Thanks Alison! So it sounds like marker-making software does exist, it just isn’t very good (the people I talked to were so dismissive of the concept that perhaps I misinterpreted).

    Jasmine, I’m a math nerd, but totally out of my depth on software writing. Maybe I’ll challenge one of my software-genius friends to optimize the programs. :)

  10. Jasmin says:

    It reminds me of my old job, which used to be workforce optimisation – if you are only doing one thing (layout) and everything else if fixed, getting a computer to do it is easy. If you want to balance out multiple priorities, and be a bit flexible about how you do it, and change the inputs, priorities, and outputs each time … it becomes a lot harder, because essentially you want it to be like a really skilled person, not a machine :-) Which is fun to do, but really hard work to make!

  11. Carrie,

    Here is a review of the major marker-making programs and how they work:
    http://fashion-incubator.com/archive/cad_101_part_one/
    http://fashion-incubator.com/archive/cad_101_part_two/

    At no point do the reviewers say that printed markers aren’t very good. If you read the posts you will note that they explain that most markers are printed. If you get the book, Kathleen explains about adapting markers for fabric width and length.

    If your software-genius friends want to improve marker-making software, there may be an open-source package coming out that they can play with.

  12. Kathleen says:

    Carrie: I think there’s a misunderstanding here. I’m not saying your friends couldn’t bring a fresh pair of eyes to the problem but CAD is a mature and robust industry. CAD companies have spent millions trying to resolve these problems.

    The *auto* function of marker making software still does not exceed the efficiencies realized by human marker makers. I don’t believe software ever will. As it stands, humans use the software to optimize marker layouts. It’s the fastest and best way to do it. For the auto function of marker software to surpass humans, it would have to be able to think. Or, the number of variables that play a role, would have to have labeled and defined parameters that could be defined -sounds much easier than it is. This would mean the software would have to be still more complex, make setting up the marker unwieldy (even harder to learn) and very time consuming when humans can make very fast decisions by comparison. It seems easy on the face of it.

    That CAD software cannot replace humans doesn’t mean the industry lacks sophistication or has failed to make it a priority. By the same token, computers still cannot replace humans to make patterns, write books, diagnose illnesses or any other number of things.

  13. Quincunx says:

    I’m infatuated with that sleeve placket. For better or for worse, most of the other garments are all volume and little control, but that placket proves that you can not cut away anything and still have a garment fitted closely enough that it won’t dip in the dish water.

    There’s an idea for a pattern puzzle though: take one of the provided PDF patterns, notch it and figure out sewing order for the least confusion on the sewing line. I notice Timo’s pattern has already had this done. Good man!

  14. Carrie, Kathleen,

    Ok, I read “I watched someone painstakingly creating a super-efficient marker today” as meaning it was done by hand (traced hard pattern pieces) and not on a computer.

    Thanks for clarifying!

  15. Julia Lumsden’s Masters thesis, which will be available soon, might be of interest to some of you as she used/uses CAD (Gerber) to develop part of her designs/patterns. One really important thing she discovered is related to the sleeve placket shown in the article – she said to me “you can turn almost any shape into a sleeve placket”. What I think this demonstrates is a need for flexibility in areas where changing exact shapes wont impact on fit (such as the placket) – therefore improving overall fabric yield.

    I think its important to mention that most of the garments in YIELD aren’t an exercise in industrial scale manufacturing, it is a design challenge meant to appeal to the consumer and drive further developments and change. What I am hoping for is that people with skills in CAD, manufacturing processes etc will see the potential value in this work and be open to collaborations to make it viable at a larger industry scale.

    On that note – Julia Lumsden and myself are beginning to work with a local NZ company who are developing very exciting software for Virtual Prototyping (garment design (2D/3D) and patternmaking), and are attempting to trial the software with zero waste garments in the hope it will make the design/pattern making process faser and more accessible. So hopefully some exciting developments ahead.

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