How Small Batch Production Creates Less Textile Waste Than Mass Production
Are you surprised to hear that the fashion industry is one of the most wasteful industries in the world?
If you are reading this then you are probably interested in how you can make a difference buy buying or wearing clothes that are made differently and perhaps don’t have the negative impact on the planet that fast fashion has.
One way to do this is to look for smaller retailers, smaller garment makers and perhaps even handmade clothing.
I believe that smaller brands can better control the waste they produce and in particular working in small batches creates far less waste than working in larger quantities.
In the summer of last year, I moved away from making to order to making in small batches - or small batch production. This new way of working came about after I could no longer keep up with demand and creating in batches became a more sustainable way of doing things.
This blog post looks at how working in small batches has reduced the waste I produce and how this is better for the environment than fast fashion – which mass produces clothes on a huge scale.
What is Small Batch Production?
Small batch production is the term used when a production run is for less than 500 units or garments. Or in my case, less than 50 units at a time.
I cut out a stack of each of the same item - leggings or t-shirts for example - and sew them all up in one go. This is different to cutting out and sewing up one garment at a time.
As a small maker, working this way is much more productive than cutting and sewing things one by one.
What is Mass Produced Clothing?
At the opposite end of the scale there is mass produced clothing. This is clothing that is made is a large factory or a large scale and involves a lot of people!
Most chains on the high street sell mass produced clothing.
Mass produced garments are often cut out in bulk by large, heavy duty machinery which are then sewn up on a production line.
A production line is a line of machinists who each have one job to do in the construction of a garment. One machinist might sew all the left leg seams, another will hem and another will add a pocket. Each garment can have many people involved in its construction.
Mass produced clothing is most commonly used in the production of fast fashion garments - as speed is the key in the garment supply chain.
Mass produced clothes are made a lot quicker than handmade clothes. More items can be made in a day on a production line than can be made by one person that might sew for a handmade brand.
Fabric from the Cutting Room Floor
Waste is a big thing in the fashion industry. We buy more that 60% more clothing today than we did 15 years ago - yet we keep items half as long. And a lot of the clothes we don’t want any more end up in landfill.
Mass produced clothes are created in huge volumes. Hundreds of tons of garments are made every day. They are made cheaply and bought in vast quantities by us here in the West. After just one or two wears we throw them out.
In the UK we throw away more than 300,000 tonnes of clothing into landfill every year.
The garment industry also throws away vast quantities of threads and fabric from the cutting room floor away too.
The Copenhagen Fashion Summit reported that fashion is responsible for 92 million tons of solid waste in landfill every year. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation reported that every second, the equivalent of one bin lorry of textiles is landfilled or burned globally.
Small batch production still creates waste. But not at the volumes of mass production.
In my studio I cut things out in smaller quantities. This means I can control the placement of each item and have very little waste - compared to mass produced clothing.
Working in small batches means I can make sure that the fabric waste I do have is separated out easily. I can use the majority of my fabric scraps in smaller projects such as reusable wipes or hairbands.
And the smallest pieces can be collected and donated to schools or other groups for crafting.
Not all waste in the fashion industry is fabric offcuts or fabric from the cutting room floor.
Most of the textiles that we throw into landfill are garments we have bought cheaply, worn only a handful of times (if that) and then thrown away.
I would argue that although working in small batches like I do means my prices can’t be as cheap as the mass produced high street clothes – perhaps because of that they are treasured more? If you have spent more on an item of clothing are you likely to treasure it? Look after it a bit better and even mend it when it starts to wear out?
Working in small batches might mean that I am not able to produce as many clothes per day as larger retailers – but this also means that I make less mistakes. I don’t have many clothes in a pile of items with mistakes in. I can cut around the fabric flaws so they don’t get included in the leggings in the first place rather than create clothing with flaws in that needs to be sold cheaply or thrown away.
I am proud to be a near zero-waste business as I can be and use as much of the fabric as I can with very little of the clothing I produce has to be sold as seconds or thrown away as unwearable.