Karen Glass on Avant-Garde Upcycling With zerøwaste
Quietly, fashion is one of the leading causes of carbon emissions through the wasteful practices of fast fashion. As the reality of climate change slowly spreads into the mainstream, some large companies (such as H&M, most notably), have attempted to make up for this fact by offsetting some of their waste. However, as the Earth’s health (not to mention, our own healthcare) situation grows more dire, consumers are demanding more radical solutions.
Enter Karen Glass, the mastermind/designer behind zerøwaste, an avant-garde clothing line devoted to, well, creating zero waste. Through a process called “American small batch production,” upcycling is used to make clothes with absolutely no environmental impact or waste created. Milk.xyz caught up with the innovative, experimental designer to find out more about this unique practice.
Can you tell me about how the idea for zerøwaste came about?
I had been working in the apparel industry for 25 years+, in all parts of process, from concept through to finished product, including global apparel trafficking. So, I am experienced in every aspect and process of designing, making and moving clothes. in 2005 my ex-husband and I started an organic farm, organic farming requires a mindset of no waste and extraordinary resourcefulness—that means being mindful of the waste produced and how it can go back into the system as material use.
Could you see the zerøwaste technique becoming more mainstream? Is the process sustainable for mass production?
Our process technique for upcycle is proprietary, and is fully integrated into our aesthetic. This is [called] American made small batch production. American small batch production is the production of goods in smaller quantities with greater, more enduring value in both product quality and aesthetic. [And] it is scaleable into the existing industry model with some process customization. I could see american small batch production growing to define a new era of apparel making, like Raleigh Denim and Shinola, for example. Our process for Ø knit, which is newly made apparel, is standard operating process for fully fashioned knitwear and seamless machine knitting. We go a bit further by monitoring the process more extensively and transparently for waste. The process here also is integrated with an aesthetic of living life with fewer things of greater value. Ø knit design is very zerøwaste driven.
Do you see a possible solution to fast fashion’s wasteful habits?
Leaders in fast fashion apparel making are already integrating sustainability practices into their own processes. H&M is a good example. They are converting old clothing into fiber. It is a chemical process of which I am not familiar, but that said, they off set some of their footprint by recycling tons of post consumer apparel discard and waste. The real change must come from consumers. The less they buy, the more the value system will change.
What do you wish consumers knew about their shopping habits?
To learn to live life with fewer things of greater value. To be mindful of volume and think quality and value of quantity. To know who and where your clothes come from, and how those makers contribute to the greater good of the environment and humanity. [It] is so important now. Social purpose is so critically tied to the spirit of environmentalism. It is a natural attribution, for example, for us to provide work development for women who are rehabilitating from commercial sex trade exploitation. Consumerism and makers drive each other’s’ habits. Individuals can directly influence change by buying less stuff with a focus on great value and provenance.
Just as a company’s’ customer base is evolving and redefining themselves, so must they.
How would you describe your style—aside from the environmental aspect?
Intense. But balanced. Ornamental but minimal. From a taste perspective, I look for raw materials that I consider to be transcending. My hopes are that others will see beauty and feel a sense of transcendence in the work. Can’t ask for more than that as style goes.
To learn more about zerøwaste, visit the website here.
Images courtesy of Caroline Kent
Stay tuned to Milk for more sustainable fashion of the stylish variety.