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How to Design with Sustainability in Mind

Just a few tips to help understand how small adjustments in design will impact the sustainability.

Are you aware of how much waste is created by the fashion industry on an annual basis?

1. United States: 15 million tons of used textile waste annually. The amount has doubled over a 20 year period. While the average household financial output on apparel is down 40% over the 20 year period. Pointing at the quality of long-term wear. Costing taxpayers & cities $45.00 per ton to try and dispose of these materials. Only 15% of consumer clothing in the US is recycled according to Greenpeace reports.

2. Europe had a similar amount of waste however the EU has had several partnerships and projected plans to decrease the amount of waste in all sectors dealing with production, and consumerism. Europe experiences about 20%consumer recycling.

I could keep adding stats, but I want to cover how some companies can support sustainability with simple practices. Links for additional data will be at the bottom of the page.

Textile Usage & Consumption

Textiles make up the larger majority of an apparel product, making it the key factor in a sustainable approach to design. Usually we have 3 methods of dealing with fabric consumption. They are the following...

Pattern Markers:

Pattern markers are basically big puzzles that are laid out on top of the fabric before cutting. They will allow a company to estimate and track wast and use of any given style.

The images below show 2 different consumption/ waste rates for different shirts.

Marker showing 77% consumption. Room for improvement on waste reduction

Marker showing 80% consumption. Still can be improved

As you can see from the above images, this method is used before cutting anything. Consumption can be improved by looking at other styles that may share the same materials and fitting some of their pattern pieces into the marker. For example I had a client that was concerned by the waste and figured she would make the most of her money. The client used additional scrap fabric to build matching accessories for the clothing.

Design Ideas Collectively

One of the practices a bigger company uses is to have fixed key design dates for all divisions. The merchandisers and production team review designs and see what can be mixed and matched to get best cost and use. There are certainly individual styles they execute, but for the most part this will increase the ability to conserve. Athletics tends to use this method often. Generally trying to use fibers from some post consumer wastes. Such as plant protein leathers like Mylo® from Bolt Threads.

Use of fabrics and trims on multiple items can aid in waste reduction on markers.


The track suit may use same "self" fabrics with branded triple stripe. This is a standard for Adidas, so fabric maybe ordered annually to allow for replenishment planning on a global level.


Trend items are generally made in smaller unit depth. Use seasonal color ranges, and are timely, rather than timeless. In order to maximize the print & solid color materials, various additions can be added to the collection. This helps the markers be used to higher capacity, and less waste. Generally higher sell through.

Sustainability in Design that also Solves a Problem

My client Changewear ®Lingerie also uses the sustainable approach. When we are working on curating the next bra models we consider purpose and consumers ability to get the most out of our accessories products. We had define the cup design to be slightly similar on all bras. Instead of having to use different shaped inserts. That way you can purchase a bra & a kit of straps and dual colored cups to fit ALL bra styles. Basically 4 bras for $88 in total. The kits can also be used on other bra models, colors, resulting in longterm value.

The bra system was patented by Michelle Judson. She wanted something that she could pretty much change to allow for different wearable options. For example, we always dont have the option of wearing the same bra we use under a t-shirt with a halter. Changewear® bras solve this problem of having random bras we may wear seasonally and not even enjoy. Changewear® solved 3 problems in one method. Offering value, less MOQ variables, and increased consumer options. See the for recycling options!

Laws & Reform

On an annual basis I review various laws that work in conjunction with FTC, EPA, California Prop 65, and EU. All these organizations have specific requirements for apparel safety, testing, and etc. If you are unaware of what you need to know, you can research these websites, or contact a consultant like KS Apparel design, to help you with understanding fashions role in reform & law.


Reduce the transportation carbon footprint. Countries like China, Africa, and India are using freight-liners that use a mix of solar energy, electricity and fuel. The use of these freight-liners has a great impact on the greenhouse gasses.


Lastly the best thing a company can do is engage consumers with quality goods that last years. For example the concept of fast fashion is in large part feeding the unsold clothing waste. We see consumers wanting a pair of pants for $20.00. Forever expiring wearability in "21 days".

In order for a company to sell items at prices like $5.00 shits/$20.00 pants, the companies are running massive volumes, especially using synthetics. People buy more clothing with shorter life.

Reduce how much is made, increase the quality, and design well. This has been a cornerstone for any company that has lasted a long period of time.

There are so many ways you can make a small difference, as long as the build of your company expectation is thoughtful. Tell the story of your products journey. Let the story become of value. If we educate the consumer, they will adjust awareness for the greater cause.


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