Photo de conception de patron de vêtement

Minimal waste design: towards zero waste sewing patterns?

A clever mix of geometry, logic... and sewing. Objective: better control the consumption of fabric for more sobriety.

Anyone who has ever dabbled in the gentle art of sewing, or has ever watched someone do it, is bound to have in mind the joyful puzzle we're going to tell you about today...

The goal of this little game, a clever mix of geometry and logic, may seem simple at first. The goal is to fit as many pieces as possible into a given area, avoiding empty spaces. So far so good... Two small details, however, complicate the game: the surface of the game is limited (it is a rectangle of fabric), and the pieces in question are all different and full of curves (the pieces of the future garment)...

By the way, let's kill the suspense right away... : nobody has yet found THE solution to this puzzle. As a result, even today, making a garment almost invariably produces leftovers, the famous scraps of fabric. Problem: these scraps, in addition to being an economic loss, are a waste that cannot be recycled, and therefore most often end up in the garbage.

The emergence of the concept

Like the Sunday dressmaker, the textile industry is also confronted with this thorny problem. In fact, despite its increasingly sophisticated techniques, the average efficiency in this area is estimated at 85%. In other words, in factories all over the world, 15% of the fabric is still lost when cutting the pieces that make up the garments.
Aware of the urgency to reduce this waste, a number of players in the industry are trying to act, seeking new strategies to rationalize their consumption of fabric. A new concept has emerged within the industry called "zero waste design".

"The term "zero waste design" appeared about 20 years ago and refers to a set of methods that aim to optimize the raw material, in this case fabric, from the design phase of a garment in order to throw away as little as possible during the production phase,"
says Marie Romeuf, pattern maker for Domyos and member of DECATHLON's minimal waste design team.

Over time, a second expression has been added to the initial concept: "For textiles, zero waste is still a somewhat distant ideal," says the designer, "so, to be more faithful to reality, we also use the term 'minimal waste design'. In French, this means "design with a minimum of waste".

The challenge: maximize the available fabric

Controlling your fabric consumption? The approach is not, in itself, new. From the beginning, craftsmen have always tried to maximize the available fabric to make their production profitable. The design of traditional garments such as Japanese kimonos or Indian saris, for example, testify to this ancestral concern to limit the loss of precious fabrics as much as possible. However, with the massive industrialization and the decrease in production costs in the 20th century, modernity has somewhat forgotten these strategies guided by sobriety...

It is therefore a form of return to the sources that we are witnessing today, guided however by an imperative that is, this time, well and truly new. "If this fight against textile waste is not a contemporary invention," says Marie Romeuf, "we can however say that, for the last ten years, it has clearly come back to the forefront under the effect of the rise of environmental and ecological issues."

Because this is the heart of the matter: in a context of major climate crisis, the textile industry, responsible for nearly 10% of global CO2 emissions, can no longer afford such a waste.

When you put it all together, this represents 60,000 km2 of wasted textile every year, which is the equivalent of... twice the territory of Belgium (Source : The Journal of The Textile Institute Volume 112, 2021 - Issue 5). Yet the fabric alone accounts for 80% of the environmental impact of the apparel industry. The zero waste design is now a must.

Photo femme devant un ordinateur


In 2019, DECATHLON began the great adventure of minimal waste design. The team behind it is the one from Wedze, the board sports brand. That year, they set out to produce the very first set of zero waste clothing. Quite a challenge. To achieve this, DECATHLON called on one of the French pioneers of zero waste textiles: Mylène L'Orguilloux from Lille (North of France).

Between 2019 and 2020, a first year of work will allow to prove the feasibility of the concept. The results, largely positive, show that the approach does indeed generate a double gain, economic and ecological. In 2021, the DECATHLON minimal waste design unit was officially created. Two years later, in 2023, it had a dozen members from the textile design industry and was still recruiting.

"The role of the unit is to support the teams within each sport to develop and deepen the optimization of fabric consumption. This includes training designers and exploring new ways of doing things," says patternmaker Marie Romeuf.

"It's an eminently collective effort," adds Léa Minnaert, a clothing designer for Decathlon's mountain bike brand and another member of the minimal waste design team: "Designing a garment involves many different professions. Model makers, designers, stylists, product engineers... The number one challenge when adopting new methods like this is to move forward together."

An encouraging first report

An average material consumption reduction of 7.8% between 2019 and 2021

And concretely... how do we do it? "It is essentially by playing on the lines of the garments, i.e. the seams, that we manage to gain in efficiency," explains Léa Minnaert. For example, we can add, remove, shift or change the shape of a seam to optimize the final filling of the fabric. The idea is to complete the puzzle by changing the shape of the pieces.

To do this, the teams rely on two main techniques: The first, manual, consists of making paper patterns, in reduced size, to test the shapes and their assembly. The second is digital. Thanks to a 3D textile software, we can simultaneously visualize the garment worn by a mannequin and the garment in 2D, as a pattern. We can then intervene on one of the versions and see in real time how it is transcribed on the other. Eventually, algorithms and artificial intelligence should complete this process.

For the time being, the DECATHLON minimal waste design unit is already showing encouraging statistics. After only two years, the approach has led to a in average 7.8% reduction in material consumption, generating a 7% reduction in CO2 emissions. In total, by 2022, 2.6 million m2 of fabric will have been saved, the equivalent of 29,000 tons of CO2 avoided.

However, the minimal waste design unit and the teams it supports still have work to do. After clothing, the objective is to extend the scope of action to bags, tents, sleeping bags, gloves and neoprene (the material used in wetsuits for sailing, surfing and swimming).

You will also be interested in these articles

Illustration of a sewing machine

Does a garment really travel around the world before it is bought?

How many kilometres has that nice t-shirt you just bought travelled: 100? 1,000? 10,000? Focus on the journey of our clothes.

Picture of bobine & cotton

Why does it take so much water to make a cloth?

The production of a single T-shirt requires 2,700 litres of water, the equivalent of 70 showers. How do we actually achieve such volumes?

Illustration of clothing

Organic cotton, recycled cotton, conventional cotton or ordinary cotton?

Where does cotton come from? What are the disadvantages of cotton? Organic cotton or Oeko-Tex? We give you the facts, straight.

Illustration de couleurs

What impact does the carbon footprint have on us and our environment?

What is a carbon footprint? What impact do we have on it? And it on us? We will focus on its link with greenhouse gases, the climate and how we calculate it.