As a kid, I have fond memories of going to my dad’s curtain warehouse in New Zealand and playing in the bin full of offcut fabrics.
My sisters and I would jump into the soft bits of textile too small to be turned into curtains. Sometimes, my talented older sister Julia would take bits of offcuts and turn them into all sorts of cool things with her sewing machine: costumes for school plays, elastic neckties for me, and aprons for our mother.
Never did it occur to me that these offcuts we loved to play in were destined for the landfill.
Fast forward some 20 years and it was another visit to my dad’s curtain warehouse last year that sparked an idea in my mind. This time, as we walked past the room of rejects, I asked my dad what he did with them. It was then I learnt that their fate was to end up in landfill; to decompose and release glues, dyes, and greenhouse gasses.
Most of the fabrics weren’t to my taste as curtains, but I thought many of them would make for great caps. And so Offcut was born: we make five panel caps from offcut, end-of-line, and misprinted fabrics destined for landfill.
We launched just 6 months ago but have already partnered with some of New Zealand’s most iconic fashion brands to turn their offcuts into super fresh and limited-range caps.
Why do I care so much about fabric waste? Aren’t there bigger battles to fight?
Fabric waste is an enormous issue worldwide, and it needs to be taken more seriously. In New Zealand alone – a country of just 4.5 million people – we throw out the equivalent of 100 teeshirts each of fabric to landfill every single year. That’s 450 million teeshirts-worth of fabric going to landfill every single year.
In the US, 11 million tons of fabric was thrown to landfill in 2010. That’s the weight of more than 17,000 Airbus A380s.
In the garment industry, around 10-20% of all fabric is thrown out as offcuts: brand new fabric thrown out because it’s too small to be used for its intended purpose.
It makes no sense financially or environmentally, not to mention ethically.
Financially, 10-20% waste in any industry is a lot of wasted opportunity. Fabric is an expensive resource to produce, and every millimetre of it should go to productive use.
Environmentally, fabric is incredibly resource intensive to produce. The World Wildlife Fund says it takes more than 2,500 litres of water to make one single cotton tee shirt.
And when fabric goes to landfill, it eventually decomposes. It emits greenhouse gasses as it does that and dyes and glue leech into the soil.
So while making caps won’t change the world or our collective obsession with throwaway fashion, it’s a small step towards reducing one of the many harmful effects that throwaway fashion has on our society and planet.
In that light, a cap is not only a resourceful use of fabric but also a symbol of protest against a culture of waste.
About the Author
Adrien Taylor is a New Zealand-based former TV journalist who left the life of daily news to pursue ethical business and climate change filmmaking. He’s the founder of cap company Offcut, OffcutCaps.com custom furniture platform Bamtino and co-directed climate documentary Thirty Million.