Years ago, as a young fashion-design intern, Elizabeth Brunner used to spend her day sorting fabrics into to piles labeled “file” and “trash.” “I sat the whole day with beautiful, high-end fabrics,” she told us during a visit to New York. “I couldn’t let it go.” She tried taking some home, but the collection soon got out of hand. “I don’t have much space,” she says, “and there were so many. They ended up sitting in the garage for four years.” But eventually, they become fodder for her limited-run fashion line, Piece x Piece.
Industry statistics on fabric waste are appalling. The average fashion house discards 4,500 swatch cards each year. Some 50 percent of fabric waste is not biodegradable. The textile industry is the fifth largest contributor to CO2 emissions in the U.S.
But despite the good intentions Brunner — who’s married to product designer Robert Brunner, the founder of design group Ammunition — it was hard to figure out what to do with the things. Schools didn’t want them. And there was the problem of removing them from the board on which they came pasted or stapled — a laborious process, just to salvage them. Finally, Brunner had an idea: a limited edition, hand-crafted line of clothing, meticulously pieced together from the samples.
The frocks and tunics in Piece x Piece look akin to the works of Koos van den Akker or Christopher Raeburn. Many of them feature top-stitching or hand-stitching, and they’re all made in the U.S. “I wanted customers not to know the clothes were made of scrap fabrics,” Brunner says. “Each one is different. They become wearable art.”
Currently, Brunner’s work is only distributed through Wear Something Rare and Eco-Citizen in San Francisco. It can also be made to order. Prices reflect the line’s labor costs, with a tank top retailing for $178 and a more intricate, bias-cut wrap skirt for $1,600. Staying small is fine, Brunner says, if it means she can maintain her line’s integrity — and her principles. “I’m trying to bring an awareness of the issue, and not run a sweatshop,” she says. “I don’t want quality to be sacrificed.”