Have you ever felt like fabric scraps are the bane of your existence? No? Ok, maybe it’s just me! At WORK+SHELTER fabric scraps are one of those pests, that no matter how hard you try (unless we’re working with a zero-waste* design) you simply cannot avoid them. Think of it this way, you have a giant, rectangular sheet of fabric that you measure out and cut down into the shape of a t-shirt, but then what? You’re left with some small, really funky, shaped pieces of material.
You have two options:
- Discard them in a nearby landfill, where they will likely be incinerated
- Make cool stuff out of them!
Many factories do choose to throw their fabric scraps away. It’s hard to perfectly predict the amount of fabric waste associated with making one t-shirt, since manufacturers work with different patterns. However, according to a case study done by Reverse Resources, when surveying over 40 factory managers in Europe + Asia, they found that waste from production falls between 10% to 30% from intake materials. If this was the case at WORK+SHELTER, we wouldn’t be able to sleep soundly at night knowing our scraps were going to waste. If the only bottom line you’re measuring is profit, it can make sense to just throw scraps away. However, at WORK+SHELTER, we consider people, planet, and profit as equal stakeholders. Thus, we choose to put our fabric scraps to work.
How does WORK+SHELTER repurpose fabric scraps?
For longer pieces of fabric scraps that we collect, we give them to local weavers who are able to magically transform them into beautiful rugs. For any smaller pieces, we save them onsite for times when the power goes out. This is a pretty common occurrence in India and when the power does go out the women lose access to our sewing machines, since they are powered by electricity. During this downtime the ladies create small rugs from the saved fabric scraps. Last year we gave all of our employees a large scrap rug for the holidays. Cute, right?!
Each time we hire a new employee at our center in Delhi, they enter a paid training program where they learn skills such as cutting, sewing, stitching and finishing. As with anyone learning a new skill, mistakes happen. Training presents the perfect opportunity to put those fabric scraps to good use! The women use them as practice materials to make any and all test products. Which brings us into our third use…
Clothing for Orphaned Children
During the training process, we start the women out with small projects, including sewing together children’s clothing. Because the dimensions are smaller than adult sized clothing, we find it more effective for them to master these small projects before moving onto larger apparel items. Once these t-shirts are finished they are sent to a nearby orphanage in Delhi to serve as cozy clothing options for the kiddos.
Lucky for us, the fabric utilization on face masks is so low, that they are the perfect product match when it comes to fabric scraps! In fact, in the past couple of months the W+S women have sewn and donated over 5,000 face masks to a variety of organizations globally and are still busy producing more. It all started when the pandemic hit and the women were using the scraps to make masks for themselves and their families. We decided to expand our impact by temporarily turning ALL scraps into masks. These masks are made up mainly from our organic cotton fabric scraps, so they are soft, breathable and high-quality but able to be sold for a lower price point. We are also offering discounts to non-profits, or a buy one-give one opportunity for our clients. If you’d like to learn more about mask-donation opportunities, drop us a line at [email protected].
Donate the Scraps for Educational Use
In 2018, we learned that we are not the only ones that love turning fabric scraps into creative new products. We partnered with Professor Christine Facella at Parsons School of Design in New York City, USA and her students — their goal was to upcycle our scraps into a new product. We sent actual scraps from our factory in India to NYC for the class to work on. See for yourself what some of these amazing students were able to come up with here!
One thing we find important to note about fabric scraps is that they are inconsistent. One week we may have an abundance of organic cotton fabric scraps and the next week we could have a pile of recycled polyester scraps. This is what makes it tough to fulfill custom design pieces using scraps.
If you would like your scraps put to use for your order (maybe a small zip pouch?), check out our recommendations below on best practices when designing with scraps:
- Keep it small! Fabric scrap yields are limited by nature, so plan for a product with a low fabric utilization (think scrunchies or face masks).
- Keep it simple! We can’t always promise that printing or embroidery will be available for fabric scrap products, because sometimes the pieces are too small to work with, so it is best to stick with a simple product design.
Beyond that, we’re happy to discuss designing out scraps for the design-lovers out there by sharing fabric widths and other relevant production details. And then for our promotional products buyers out there, our line has already been developed with scrap reduction in mind. Yay!
As always, we’re open to new ideas and happy to answer any questions you may have, including how to best utilize scraps from your order! Drop us a line at [email protected] if you want to discuss options.
Founder + CEO of W+S