How Good Design Can Minimize Waste

As told by May Ee, the Product Creative at MATTER.

With a focus on championing sustainable production practices and preserving artisan crafts, we began our business grounded on the philosophy of slow. Going against models traditionally used in fast fashion, we produce seasonless styles and seasonal fabrics in small quantities. The core of what we do, beyond profit and product, is driven by purpose – to consider how we can impact change beyond textiles.


Aligned with our commitment to sustainable production practices, we work with a minimal waste design approach.


Here’s a little more about what that really means:

Every production factory uses a Marker, a guide in the cutting process to arrange the patterns. It is made digitally on a computer, printed out with a plotter, then laid on top of the fabric to cut out the pieces. Say a garment has 4 panels, the pattern will be laid out on the computer, then rearranged until the amount of fabric leftover is minimized.

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Another approach we’ve practiced is to avoid placement prints in our design process. Placement prints are designed in a way where the position and repeat is controlled. They rely on the artwork to be done to scale of a product, and are cut in a specific position to hold the placement of a print.


What we do is the opposite of that, and it also means that the prints on our products all look different in its arrangement of pattern – a novelty we love.


Most companies that make printed fabrics (like stripes or plaid) will practice placement prints so that the patterns match when they align together. This guarantees that every product is identical and controlled in its placement, and though it remains uniform in its aesthetics, it also increases textile wastage.


Using a method that reduces textile waste in the design to pattern cutting process, our production partners collect the leftover fabrics from every order. Offcut fabrics are then repurposed to create our #mattermini line lovingly stitched in Singapore by social enterprise Mother&Child project, a limited range of necklaces crafted by sustainable jewellery atelier Amado Gudek, and jute bags hand-stitched by the sewing unit of Khushiram, our fifth generation blockprinting artisan in Jaipur. We’ve also used them in our collaboration with Books Actually to create limited edition book wraps, and in our offcut sewing workshop with textile artist Agy.


The idea, beyond minimizing waste, is to give new life to typically rejected fabrics and use them as a basis of collaboration with likeminded brands and designers who want to spread the importance of reducing waste.


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The bigger dream, of course, is to ground ourselves with a zero-waste design approach; to be at a point where our production no longer creates waste, even if it does lead to the repurposing of offcut fabrics. Zero-waste pattern making uses 100% of the entire fabric cut-piece to make a garment.


Imagine a complete jigsaw puzzle with no empty spaces in between – that’s what zero-waste pattern making is.


With this in mind, we decided to give zero-waste pattern making a try with our newest jumpsuit in the making. (Coming soon in 2018!) We designed the top part of the jumpsuit so that it leaves zero-waste, but we soon came to realize that the bottom part has its own limitations with the fit and so we worked with a minimal waste design instead.

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To explain a little more about the constraints, we asked Gui Ying, our collaborative designer on the jumpsuit, to share her experience with zero-waste pattern making.

The challenge in zero-waste designs is to achieve full fabric usage while creating an aesthetically pleasing silhouette at the same time. To work from 2D patterns and fit that onto a 3D figure is not as simple as it might seem. You have to consider how it wears and how it looks; the comfort, movement, and aesthetics.

As a designer working with textiles, I have always been conscious of the fabric wastage accumulated after pattern cutting. It’s a problem that I’ve come to see as a challenge, to push myself to come up with different solutions that would leave zero waste in the process.

The waste produced from the fashion industry has been increasing over the years, and with the wide use of non-biodegradable fabrics, this issue has only worsened with time. Giving thought to fabric usage and being conscious of our impact from the design process onwards is just the first step to remedying this.


Every year, 80 billion garments are made globally, creating 1.3 billion tons of fabric waste. What this means is that the practice of fast fashion

1. Enables more production
2. Leads to more waste
3. Leaves a negative impact on our environment; from taking up landfill space to releasing methane (a significant contributor to global warming)


As brands in the fashion industry, we have a responsibility to minimize textile waste from the start of the process: in our designs.


Imagine if everyone in the fashion industry designed their apparels knowing what they create and the philosophies they stand behind holds a direct impact to the environment. We’ve heard the saying every purchase you make is a vote for the kind of world you want, perhaps the same should be said for the products we design.

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