Future Luxury Without Waste

Students create designs from waste fabric provided by LVMH.

Rosemary Wallin, CSM Doctoral Researcher – ‘Sustainable Luxury’ and Pathway Leader on BA Fashion Design and Marketing, looks at an LVMH collaboration with sustainability at its core.

In 2016, when the Zero-Waste project began, we had already been working with LVMH on a sustainability project for three years. But like many sustainability projects, the focus had remained largely on up-cycling wasted luxury materials, provided by a number of LVMH companies such as Marc Jacobs, Loewe, Louis Vuitton and Thomas Pink. While the project had been creative and successful, I wanted to develop it to think in a more systemic way about fashion's creation of waste in the first place. Through my own doctoral research into sustainable luxury, I had been interested in the concept of zero-waste pattern cutting, pioneered by designers such as Holly McQuillan and Timo Rissanen, and I decided it was important to introduce these techniques to the Central Saint Martins fashion undergraduates.

Zero-waste pattern cutting involves changing the way we think about the design process, so that the clothes produce little or no waste cloth. Normally, the fashion design comes first, then the pattern is made, and then the pattern is cut from a length of cloth. ‘Lay planning’ is how the pattern is arranged on the length of cloth to produce the least amount of waste. Despite this, we as an industry produce 60 billion metres of waste cloth a year (i.e. this is the fabric left on the cutting room floor). By contrast, zero-waste pattern cutting employs a number of different techniques to create shapes, which use the whole cloth – treating it as the precious resource it is.

The revolutionary aspect of the zero-waste project at Central Saint Martins, was to combine it with the notion of luxury – an area we are beginning to specialise in. This was a team project with students from Fashion Design and Marketing (FDM) to design and make the clothes, Fashion Communication and Promotion (FCP) to create the visual communication/campaign around the concept and Fashion Journalism students (FJ) to create the narrative around the collection. There were six teams and each was given a luxury brand to design a capsule zero-waste collection for. The results were spectacular. In the first year the winning groups designed for Marc Jacobs and Kenzo, and the clothes, communication and marketing were so sophisticated that Alexandre Capelli, Group Environment Manager for LVMH, said that they were strong enough to go in-store immediately. Such was the standard, that the student designers were invited to show the clothes in a dedicated fashion show at the Future LIFE, 25 years of LVMH environment event in Paris, which was a brilliant showcase for the students and their innovative work. 

This year was the second year of the project and once again we had joint winners with the Fendi and Givenchy groups creating stunning concepts for a ‘Fending Machine’ and a Givenchy cult complete with its own perfume. 

Importantly, this project demonstrates that both research and knowledge transfer are vitally important to keep our curriculum relevant to industry, linking as it does, cutting-edge work in academia with real-life industry issues and contexts. The students become the creative link between the two, as a hot-bed for ideas, testing out new methods and processes in imaginative and often previously unthought-of ways.

For the students, it has been a brilliant learning experience. The FDM students learnt new pattern cutting techniques as well as about digital print and working in an interdisciplinary team, and all the group members learnt about sustainable issues through doing, participating and problem solving themselves – operating like companies in microcosm. I strongly believe that sustainability is best taught not in theory, but through practice, and I know that all of the FDM students in particular will consider the waste they produce in a different way from now on.

Similarly, LVMH plan to invite the students into some of its Maisons to present the zero-waste project to its design teams, showing that even when at college students can begin to affect the culture of the industry they have yet to enter. This is an extremely exciting outcome, not just in terms of their future employment, but also as influencers for a fairer and more sustainable future fashion industry.