Lucille Relaford

Systems & Society

Reincarnations: An Interruption of Clothing Life Cycles

A system intervention featuring experimental zero waste patternmaking.
by Lucille Relaford
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What Does Zero Waste Look Like?

Every year, 92 million tons of textile waste are generated around the world, taking up about 7% of all landfill space. 60% of this textile waste is non-biodegradable plastic, and about 15-20% of this textile waste is disposed of before it even reaches consumers. So how can someone who loves both fashion and the environment continue to create within these systems of production while knowing they are so detrimental to our world? How can two systems seemingly at odds with each other be rectified? Reincarnations explores the life cycle of our clothing from cradle to grave, and develops methods for interventions at every step of the process, accounting for fabric fibers, design, use, and its eventual return to the earth. But the ability to control an entire production system is rare in this day and age, and adds complex layers. So by handling as much of the process as possible, I hope to investigate the role of a designer as one who not only creates aesthetic forms, but also acts as a thoughtful innovator of patterns, sourcing, and systems.

Reincarnations is intentionally left open-ended, as I believe there is no one way to be ‘sustainable.’ Thus, process transparency and intersectional perspectives are a critical component of this process. Reincarnations is an inclusive and functional collection that engages a wider audience in discussions about sustainable clothing by bridging popular aesthetics and silhouettes with experimental pattern making practices.
Image: A traditional raglan tee in comparison to my zero waste pattern. The blue represents the wasted fabric from cutting.
Image: The Harmony Top, pattern shown on left.

Analyzing Life Cycles

Many sustainable solutions intervene too late: they come into a system after environmental damage has already been done. While this can be helpful in the short-term, I want to ask the question of what does a fully self-sustaining fashion system look like?
Plant Based Materials.

What constitutes an environmentally friendly cloth? Pulling from criteria used to evaluate the food and agriculture industries, a material chart testing environmental, social, and performance factors was developed to analysis plant-based fibers.
Image: Why Not Deadstock?
Deadstock has become a popular way to design sustainably, and while there are many people that are doing great things with deadstock and upcycled clothing, it was more important for me to start at the beginning of a fabric’s life cycle. The agricultural aspect of clothing is often ignored which excludes a huge portion of the environmental damage before the fibers even become fabric. For instance, cotton, generally considered to be good natural alternative fiber, is one of the most water intensive and pesticide intensive crops, making up about 4% of global pesticide use, and 10% of global insecticide use. By fully following these life cycle from root to rot, our understanding of the system increases, and the scope for solutions expands.

Getting Closure(s)
Often forgotten about, thread, closures, and finishes, are a crucial part of our clothing, quite literally holding everything together! This part of the system is quite difficult to control, especially when not buying in bulk, and it was difficult to source sustainable closures and thread. In order to remain as sustainable as possible, I chose to use cotton thread instead of polyester, and I only bought the exact lengths and amounts of zippers and buttons that I needed. By knowing what was needed and buying exactly that, excess waste that would go unused is eliminated.
Image: In-process JonesJumpsuit
Image: Cutting the Goodie Dress
Image: Early sketch for the Jones Jumpsuit
Image: Early Ideations of the Gio Top
Image: Working mostly with rectangular and triangular patterns, getting a 2D rectangle to become a fitted 3D garment proved difficult. Along with careful darting and pleating, creating shape by using smaller panels allowed for a more natural and flattering fit that hugs the body in all the right places. The inclusion of gusset details also allowed me to accommodate tight curves, and increase space in between panels.

Some looks, such as the Blossom Dress took many iterations before arriving on the final design. I initially wanted a fully pleated swing dress, but pleating issues required me to reduce the amount of pleating. Fit issues made the next muslin a failure, but inspired the final iteration, which took another three tests to make the pattern zero waste.

Other looks happened more spontaneously such as the Goodie Dress and the Jones Jumpsuit, but all of my patterns were developed using the same rules.

Inspired Illustrations

“Reincarnations” was silk-screen printed by hand. Silk screening was the most accessible, eco-friendly printing method for me as a student, and by doing it myself I remained close to the process of production and was able to connect with the craft of print-making.

Illustration has long been a huge part of my art practice, and I wanted to find a way to incorporate it into my thesis, especially since my patterning method for this collection was more draping based than sketch based. I thought my illustrations would best lend themselves as a print, lending aesthetic and emotion to an otherwise plain and unsentimental material.

I was initially very inspired by the beautiful plants used in my fabric, and while I wanted to pay homage to the roots of my fabric (literally!) I didn’t want the print to read strictly as floral. While ruminating on this, I developed a print that to me encompasses the whole life cycle of my collection, from roots to fabric, to a loved garment, and eventually back to the earth.
Image: The Blossom Dress
Image: The Gio Top and Flutter Skirt
Image: The Goodie Dress
Image: The Jones Jumpsuit
Image: The Harmony Top and Roots Pants
Image: Zipping the Jones Jumpsuit
Image: 0.01% Waste

This bottle is the total waste generated from making the final garments. it fits in the palm of your hand, and is mostly made from thread clippings.

Admittedly, the collection is not fully zero waste. I have muslin scraps that I have saved and will repurpose into yarn for my next collection, and there was a small amount of thread waste (photo on this page). Looking forward, muslin waste should be diminished through the use of digital patternmaking, and although thread waste is unavoidable, the cotton thread I have used will biodegrade much faster than polyester alternatives. While I was very concious about selecting closures to measure for each look, I still hope that in the future closures made from recycled materials will be more accessible to consumers.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

I hope this collection becomes a solid foundation for the development of intersectional sustainability strategies and alternative production methods, and inspires others to engage in sustainable fashion practices.


Led by curiosity, Lucy Relaford is a fashion and systems designer with a desire to reimagine systems of production within the fashion industry. Through her student work, and as she begins her career, she aspires to become a leader in redesigning industry standards. She also hopes that her work will inspire and educate a new generation of conscious consumers. Her practice begins with a deep love for the environment, which was developed by witnessing the changing landscapes of her bi-coastal upbringing. An environmental focus remains a consistent theme in Lucy’s work. Lucy’s designs are also guided by a strong sense of social responsibility, which manifests in her intersectional approach to working within fashion production systems. This synergy of activism and design is a manifestation of her studies in both fashion design and culture/media theory. This approach requires additional levels of in-depth research from multiple perspectives. Lucy encourages transparency and collaboration in her process and is excited by the emerging opportunities in the world of sustainable systems and fashion design. She looks forward to continuing to explore alternative solutions in creative ways.