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Checklist: Designing sustainable fashion

Achieve positive environmental outcomes without sacrificing form or function.

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  • Reduce your environmental impact in your design work

Design decisions based on sustainability principles is more than using sustainable materials such as textiles, fabrics and dyes. When designing a new fashion product, you can incorporate sustainable principles in a sensible, practical manner without dismissing fundamental design principles. Our checklist helps you to work in these principles early in the design and manufacturing process. 

Identify key design outcomes in the design brief and concept

The design brief and development will ultimately influence the life-time environmental impacts of the garment. Think about how the pattern will be laid out on flat fabric, the amount of waste generated and whether the garment can be constructed in a different way to reduce waste. Explore ways of reducing labour costs in the manufacturing process, such as 3D knitting.

Select sustainable materials

Consider the life of the garment and select the right textile to minimise wear, tear, stains or the need for specialist cleaning. Natural fibres such as cotton and bamboo have a lower environmental impact than synthetic fibres such as spandax and polyester. Select inks and dyes that are non-toxic,  natural or vegetable-based.

Consider composite approaches in your material selection - for example, research shows that 50/50 cotton-polyester mixes are likely to last twice as long as 100 per cent cotton sheets so may have a significant reduction in environmental impacts associated with laundering.

If you adopt sustainable practices in the selection of materials, consider having your products certified organic that will generate goodwill amongst customers who are supportive of living sustainability. 

Minimise waste during pattern making

Think about how you can construct the garment in a different way to reduce waste (e.g. offcuts, end of roll). Select textiles that have a repeat pattern (with no beginning or end) so that the entire roll of fabric can be utiilised. 

Opt for ethical garment construction

When garments are constructed there is usually waste. Think about whether you can reuse or recycle the waste and offcuts. In the production process, use textile workers that work under ethical conditions.  The Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia has more information on ethical garment production. Garment labels communicating information on garment use,care and recycling can help consumers to avoid discarding it prematurely and minimise environmental impact during washing.

Reduce waste in packaging

Think about the way you package the finished product and if you could reduce the amount of packaging used. Find a local service to recycle packaging.