Moving to Zero Fabric Waste Production Runs

Sometimes figuring out how to do the right thing is complicated. As some of you know, Nash and I have been experimenting the past decade with moving to zero fabric waste production in order to help out our local environment. Last year we posted up a tutorial on composting cotton fabric scraps. Although recycling our cotton scraps into compost was successful, the process was too time consuming to be practical. We’ve ended up with a lot of empty buckets full of fabric scraps under our cutting table because we couldn’t bear to throw them out.

This month we finally have a good solution: scraps will be processed and turned into natural paper for local arts and crafts centers as well as artists in the area. For all our natural clothing clients, this means we’re instituting zero waste fabric runs. This adds to the fact that we have already recycled all our left-over leather and trims for years. However, we produce a lot more fabric waste, so it’s been a bigger problem for us to tackle. Finding the right solution has simply been a matter of good stewardship. Hopefully our clients will benefit from knowing as well that they are positively affecting the environment around them. It’s based on the nature adventurer motto of leave no trace behind.

Fabric waste contributes 15-20 percent to annual landfill waste, but for me it’s a practical problem as I’ve worked in larger factories in the Carolinas where they literally sent a truckload of fabric scraps a day to the landfill. It’s hard not to feel something when you watch an 18-wheeler pull off full of fabric, destined to be buried in a hole in the ground. Efficient marker layout is something all patternmakers aspire to, but even the best efforts cannot be  100% efficient. Apparel industry designs result in 5-40 percent of waste, which leaves a lot on the table.

This year we invested in equipment to automate the process and moved to finishing scraps as paper. It has been awesome. Our goal in making a usable product (instead of simply turning it back into garden mulch like Starbucks) allows us to have a positive environmental impact twice. First, we remove the fabric scraps from going to landfills, and second, we don’t add to the negative environmental impact of logging. As much as 35 percent of the current paper trade comes from harvested trees.

This has been working well, and on warm sunny days you may see clotheslines of new handmade paper hanging beside the shop. It is actually an old technique because prior to the 1800s most paper came from rag scraps. We’re offering the service free of charge to all our clients because it’s something we believe in. If you’re a local artist or store owner and would like to participate in improving your local environment too, please feel free to contact Nash for your own handmade paper. Standard paper size is 8 ½ x 11 ½ inches. We make natural paper the last weekend of every month. It is available the first Friday each month on a first come, first serve basis.

It’s hard to say if Nash and I will be around a hundred years from now, but we hope there will still be the laughter of children playing in our neighborhood. We hope someone will tell them stories about the family that spun cloth into paper and believed it was gold. The old trees will tell them it’s true.



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