Every year, garment factories dump mountains of fabric scraps into landfills because it’s cheaper than recycling. Textile pollution, a dirty secret of the garment industry—which tends to waste 15% to 20% of its material—has been all but unquestioned, or at least unresolved, until only recently.
Daniel Silverstein, who launched his Spring '14 line this week, is one of a few up-and-coming designers who cuts his clothes using zero-waste techniques. Silverstein works with signature embellishments like applique, braiding, and alternative pleating techniques to ensure that not a scrap is lost.
"I started the concept during a design challenge in my last year of school at FIT. Everyone was trying to be eco, using organic cotton. I asked, what if I make no trash?" Silverstein tells Co.Design. He didn’t win the challenge but stuck with the project anyway, starting the line 100% New York out of his bedroom. "I started making patterns differently. I think of it like cookie dough. After cutting out a bunch of cookies, you have leftover scraps in strange shapes that you use to cut more cookies. That’s similar to cutting clothes. Instead of throwing the fabric scraps away, I find ways to work with the leftover shapes. I use these parameters to help push my creativity."
The new collection debuts under the designer's name, not the 100% New York label. Of the looks and the shift, Silverstein tells Co.Design, "I found inspiration in different species of birds. It symbolically reflects where I am in my life—jumping off and starting to take flight, with a light, edgy but happy feeling."
His designs were endorsed by supermodel Amber Valletta for her new eco-lifestyle brand, Master and Muse. Intricately braided netting, a print of skeletons with flowers for skulls, and a dress that resembles collaged confetti are highlights of Silverstein’s sustainable fashion-committed collection.
It's an ethos that's gaining popularity. Parsons the New School for Design two years ago launched the world's first fashion courses in zero waste. Other notable designers who practice using all parts of the fabric buffalo include organic label Loomstate and Mark Liu and Zandra Rhodes in England.
So aside from buying zero-waste attire, how does a stylish individual help prevent textile pollution? "Recycling your own clothes is huge," says Silverstein. "People throw out pounds of textile waste every year. We don’t even know we’re doing it. Instead, donate your used threads to Salvation Army if they’re wearable, or to a place that can recycle textiles if not." The designer says locavore shopping is also key: "It’s important to buy clothes made in America. We make all our pieces in my studio in the garment district. I sit down at the sewing machines and work on my own production."
See more Daniel Silverstein here.