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Sustainable design techniques

Here are a number of techniques, strategies, processes and approaches you can take to design products that have a low environmental impact.
Handcrafted Peruvian knitwear from design collective Haus of Artisans
© Mysource Ltd

There are a number of techniques, strategies, alternative processes and approaches you can take to design products that have a low environmental impact and positive social purpose.

Zero waste pattern cutting

Zero-waste is a design technique that eliminates textile waste at the design stage. It has been estimated that 15% of textiles intended for clothing ends up on the cutting room floor. Why waste a precious resource?

The zero-waste approach means that you need to know your textile dimensions to be able to design your garment; and likewise you need to know your design dimensions to source your textile. You will need to carefully plan how you use the piece of textile by arranging your pattern pieces like a jigsaw puzzle. You can also work out the pattern by draping.

Get more tips here.

Minimal seam construction

This is a design technique that reduces the number of seams required to sew together a garment. It makes manufacturing much quicker and can save on materials. It can also allow the garment to have greater freedom of movement and increase comfort for the wearer. Some companies, like The North Face, are investing in technology that can fuse seams together, meaning no sewing required!

See David Telfer’s work on minimal seam construction techniques.


Upcycling is an approach to design where you transform by-products, waste or disused materials or products into something new of better quality and greater value. By reusing materials that already exist, you are saving energy, water, chemicals and other resources required to make new virgin materials.

For fashion, you might use deadstock fabric (fabric that is left over from mills and garment factories; or flawed fabrics), vintage clothing that you repurpose or other unused or waste materials. Finding factories skilled enough to do upcycling and that are willing to work with second hand garments and waste fabric can be tricky.

Design for disassembly (Dfd)

With this strategy, you would design your products in a way which means they can easily be taken apart at the end of the product’s life so that the components can be repaired, reused or recycled. This strategy means the product will need to be easy to assemble as well and could likely require fewer materials – meaning it could help save costs and your product’s environmental footprint. It is smart design. And when you make smart products, people tend to notice and talk about it.

Multi-functional / transformational

This strategy means designing products for multiple uses. In fashion, you might design a garment that could be worn multiple ways or something that is reversible or has components that you can add or edit.

See these real-life examples:
Antithesis’ Carry On Closet
Flavia La Rocca

Design for longevity

This may seem like a common sense approach to design but even the smallest design choices can impact how long a product’s life will last. There are many reasons that people discard clothing – not the right fit, the person changes size, the fabric quality or the style becomes uncool. The best way you can keep your products from going to landfill is by designing to last, to be cared for and repaired, to be reused or to be passed on to others.

– Classic, timeless styles and colours
– Use high quality fabrics that can withstand use and care
– Get a good fit
– Educate your customer about how to best care for the product

Read more about ways to design for longevity.

Craft preservation

You can help preserve age-old, ancestral craft techniques by incorporating them into your modern designs. Preservation through innovation. For example, how might you use a special traditional embroidery, an amazing embellishment, a weaving technique, metal hammering or an ancient leather making process in your designs? But make sure you give the history and craftspeople credit. You don’t want to be accused of stealing designs or bad cultural appropriation.

Brands that are giving ancient craft a new fashionable purpose:
Abury Collection
Carlie Ballard
Linda Mai Phung

© Mysource Ltd
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How to Build a Sustainable Fashion Business

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