What do the toga, the saree and the kimono have in common? These traditional garments from across the world are made from an entire length of fabric without wasting any bits. In other words, they are ‘zero waste’ garments. Before the industrial revolution, when fabric was scarce, expensive and difficult to manufacture, most garments were zero waste. Unfortunately, the garments we wear today are far from being low wastage.
In the paper ‘How AI can enable a Sustainable Future’, published by Microsoft in association with PWC, there’s the following statement- “…each past industrial revolution has borrowed from the future to pay for the present by achieving economic growth through the degradation of our planet’s health. Today’s technological revolution must break this pattern, and for the first time deliver sustainable economic growth.” This applies strongly to fashion. Technology has made fashion production faster, more cost efficient and democratic. However, it has also made the industry increasingly unsustainable.
Fashion is a massive industry that employs tens of millions of people globally and everyone wears clothing. It is a universal medium of communication. I believe that fashion can create positive change in society, and it is important that it does. We live in a world where something as beautiful as fashion, which should make people happy, is damaging the planet and ruining lives through unsustainable practices. At every stage of the design and production processes, unsustainable practices are employed.
At a pattern cutting stage alone, roughly 15% of fabric gets wasted when it is cut according to patterns, and all the offcuts produced end up in landfills or incinerators. 400 billion square meters of fabric is produced annually- that amounts to 60 billion square meters of fabric wastage. This is despite using technology that helps digitally lay all the pattern pieces on the fabric such that the waste is minimized.
Pattern cutters like Timo Rissanen and Holly McQuillan are experts in the field of zero waste pattern cutting. They have created techniques, and published papers and books on how to create zero waste garments for today’s market. However, doing this is an extremely complex, time consuming process, hence it has not been implemented on a large scale. Looking at the big picture, designers and brands have simply accepted that nothing can be done about this 15% wastage- that it’s inevitable.
I am an undergraduate student at the London College of Fashion. I study Fashion design and development. I am passionate about sustainability, technology and innovation, and have been named an East London Innovator for the year 2019. I host and assist in producing AlphaOmega London’s ‘Fashion Vanguards’ podcast series. When given the opportunity in February 2019 to work with Microsoft and the Fashion Innovation Agency to drive change in the fashion industry, I decided to find a way to use technology to create zero waste garment patterns. The ‘Accelerating the Future of Fashion’ incubator guided me and helped refine my idea. The outcome was a software named Art-Z (which stands for artificial intelligence and zero waste) that uses machine learning, amongst other technologies, to reduce the amount of wastage produced at a pattern cutting stage. It does this by making small amendment to patterns using artificial intelligence in such a way that the aesthetic of the designer is not compromised. As designers, we need tools to help us design more sustainably without all the pressure being entirely on ourselves. Art-Z does exactly that- it acts as a helping hand for designers who want to create beautiful garments with minimal wastage.
After the Accelerating the future of Fashion event, I was selected by Microsoft to visit the US in summer 2019. I spent a week in Seattle at the Microsoft headquarters and a couple of days in Silicon
Valley. I got to speak to experts in the field of AI and discuss my idea in depth. I also got to speak to some incredible people who are hacking the future of fashion using the technology.
Collaborating with top industry professional from other fields such as technology proved to be an incredible experience filled with learning. Microsoft, the Fashion Innovation Agency and LCF helped turn my vision into reality, as well as develop the business skills required to take Art-Z forward.
Art-Z has gotten featured in Forbes magazine, the Evening Standard, the Microsoft In Culture website and podcast, and other digital media platforms. I have been invited to speak about Art-Z at London Fashion Weekend at the Microsoft Flagship Store, and at the London Design Festival at the Sustainable Stories Exhibition by Nirvana CPH. I am currently working with Microsoft to turn Art-Z into a business and make it available for companies to buy as an add-on software to other existing lay planning software.
Who would benefit from Art-Z? Needless to say- the Earth, the landfills, the polar bears… but also businesses. Based on Mintel’s research from a year ago, a massive 65% of adults in the UK are trying to live more sustainably and ethically than they were a year before. A large percentage of interest in sustainable clothing comes from the young population, who in the upcoming years, will have a lot of spending power. It would also be helpful to brands that want to cut costs.
There is a long way to go for Art-Z to become available in the market for companies to implement, but collaborations with local, sustainable brands are under way. If you’re interested in following Art-Z’s journey and finding out more about zero waste software, follow us on Instagram at @artz_software or on Facebook at Art-Z: Software for Fashion.
Ashwini Deshpande, Fashion design and development student at London College of Fashion and CEO of Art-Z