NYC Book talk: Zero Waste Fashion Design


Holly McQuillan will be in New York next week and Parsons School of Design will host a talk on our new book, Zero Waste Fashion Design, published by Bloomsbury in January 2016.

Location: The New School University Center, 63 Fifth Avenue, L105

Date and time: Thursday February 11th, 7-8pm


Copies will be available for purchase. The book is also available on Amazon.

Zero Waste Fashion Design


The book Zero Waste Fashion Design is now out in the UK and will be released in the rest of the world in January. My awesome co-author, Holly McQuillan, and I, will do an event together in New York in February – stay tuned. We will also be at the Second International Conference for Creative Pattern Cutting hosted by the University of Huddersfield, also in February. All feedback welcome! The book is available directly from Bloomsbury as well as Amazon.

Monokini 2.0 charity show

Monokini 2.0 Charity Catwalk show, Helsinki 2015 from Tärähtäneet ämmät / Nutty T on Vimeo.

Monokini 2.0 is one of those projects that I still pinch myself for the privilege of having been a part of. I’m profoundly moved by all of the models, and forever grateful to Vilma Metteri and Katriina Haikala (aka The Nutty Tarts) and Elina Halttunen, who contacted Metteri and Haikala with an idea. The above video is from the August charity show in Helsinki.

Your name on me!


Once again I’m raising funds for Team for Kids by running the TCS New York City Marathon on November 1 and I request your support. On the day of the race, I will honor all donors by writing your name on my body. What I would like to happen is that even with a fine marker I run out of body to write on. The cause is fantastic, making a huge difference in the health and well-being of kids in NYC and beyond. Donations of any size are very much appreciated and multiple donations will result in multiple names. If you wish to donate anonymously, you can; message me and I’ll make sure I acknowledge you on the day. Please share, and please donate HERE. THANK YOU!!!

H&M Global Change Award


The H&M Global Change Award has received a mixed response this week, for example in The Guardian and Ecouterre; my initial thoughts are included in the latter. Posting the Ecouterre article on Facebook resulted in some lively debate and I continue to reflect further.

Why this Award is an interesting initiative from H&M is that my understanding of a true circular economy is one of a closed system of a finite size. We are perhaps decades away from a steady-state (or post-growth) economy, and the transition into one – if we in fact deem that a shared goal – is gradual and incremental. H&M engaging in a conversation about a circular economy could be an early step in that transition.

What I see desperately missing from these conversations is a long term view, not from H&M specifically, but rather, from all of us as a global society. We need clear, tangible and actionable goals for the next decade, the next five decades and the next century. (And the next ten thousand years with nuclear waste.) We need an agreed goal for the global population size; any conversation about economics and sustainability is inherently tied to that. In light of the relatively short elected terms of policy makers, we need to empower those stakeholders who are capable of long term views and sustained action towards long term goals.

We also need conversations about appropriate size for companies over time. This should not be determined and imposed externally; the responsibility and the leadership for that are with each company. The pursuit of quantitative growth, seemingly at any human cost, must be tackled. As Schumacher noted in Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered over four decades ago, we (still) spend our capital as if it were income. Which is why it’s positive that a company like H&M is engaging in conversation about a circular economy. Simultaneously we should deepen the conversation on qualitative growth: how do we increase our capacity to continually elevate our shared quality of life, decoupled from ever-increasing pace and volume of consumption?

Increasingly I actively choose optimism and hope, over the cynicism and dismissive skepticism that I generate like one of Pavlov’s dogs when I read of H&M’s efforts around sustainability. There is a monumental amount of work for us to do and my cynicism will not get that work done. Therefore, I choose to be hopeful. I’m hopeful that the Award will springboard sharp minds into visionary work on new solutions. I’m hopeful that through those solutions, the human networks in fashion will be restored and cherished. I’m hopeful that one day H&M will proudly look back at its leadership in solving the problems it has contributed towards creating.

Photo by Janelle Abbott, from that time when we were the self-declared winners of an H&M white t-shirt competition.

Quick Q&A

Alison is a senior at a high school in New York, and she got in touch with me with a few questions for a research project for her Environmental Science class. Whenever I encounter high school students asking questions about fashion and sustainability I smile with optimism; I trust the next generation will take on the formidable challenges ahead. We, the generation before, still have work to do, make no mistake about that. Here are her questions and my brief responses.

When and how did you first become aware of the deplorable standard of ethics and sustainability that occurs in some sectors of the fashion industry?

In 1996, in my first year of study at the University of Technology Sydney for a bachelor’s degree in fashion and textile design. I had a textile design teacher, Julia Raath, who would talk about the impacts of some of the chemicals used in textile dyeing and printing.

What, in your opinion, is the biggest challenge, or the largest area for improvement, that the fashion industry faces if a change is to be made towards more sustainable production of clothes?

Consumption and growth. It’s not a challenge for fashion alone but rather for society as a whole. We need an economic system and a society that does not rely on an ever-increasing volume of consumption of goods. Unchecked economic growth would eventually result in planetary and societal collapse. This is not news – among others the book ‘The Limits to Growth‘ was published in 1972 – but it’s a conversation that many parts of society find too confronting to have, and yet it is a conversation and a task we must tackle.

What resources and technologies are available to the fashion and textile industries that will help them transition to more sustainable production methods with a limited environmental impact?

Too many to mention; different solutions are needed for different problems and contexts. For example, zero waste fashion design and whole-garment knitting are two strategies to eliminate fabric waste from garment manufacturing. Lots of work is being done to eliminate toxic chemicals from textile manufacture, for example by Clean by Design by the NRDC. The New Economics Foundation is one of many organizations looking for new economic models. Sustainable Cotton Project and organic cotton are two approaches to eliminating toxic pesticides from cotton farming. The list is almost endless. I would argue that just about every solution we need is already in existence.

Are there any unsustainable practices in the fashion industry that continue to persist due to a lack of viable alternatives?

Consumption, or the industry’s (and our society’s) reliance on it. The lack of alternatives, in my view, is primarily to do with a fear of the unknown and a lack of leadership in this area, particularly from policy makers and business leaders.

What, as consumers, are the most important decisions we can make to ensure that we are contributing to a more sustainable fashion industry?

Focus less on the clothes you want or need or think you should buy because they are ‘sustainable’, and more on who you want to be in this life and in this world. What kind of a difference do you want to make in this world? Human being is virtually unlimited in possibility. Fashion can be a vital aspect of self expression and the source of immense joy (it should be!) but that doesn’t need to mean owning a ton of stuff. Find the joy in cherishing clothes, in customizing them, in repairing them, in sharing them. Build a deep connection with the natural world and know your place in it, as an integral part of it. Grow your own herbs, compost your food scrap (I do through Grow NYC). Have an amazing life, guided by George Bernard Shaw if needed.

I do recommend reading the stories at the Local Wisdom link above, under the tab ‘Use Practices’. I also recommend books by Kate Fletcher and John Ehrenfeld.

(The orchid above was thrown out by a colleague because she thought it was dead. It nearly was. I’ve nursed it back to life and will give it back to her once it has started blooming again, probably within two weeks.)