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Article 2 : Pro and cons of working with offcuts. First experience: our own waste

In the fashion industry, offcuts are probably the first eco-friendly material you meet. Actually before even being a possible material, it is the waste you have produced.

To conceive one of our bags (in the case of We All Share Roots), we purchase leather or Piñatex and fabrics, then we cut those materials and use the shapes we need. As an automated result, we get offcuts. Plenty of offcuts. Tiny little bits to long and big pieces. Very quickly it made sense for me to re-purpose them and make ranges of smaller items : purses, coin purses, toiletry bags etc. in order to avoid having plenty of waste. Easy peasy.

Well, not that easy… Imagine a huge box full of fabric waste. Inside there are all the possible sizes and all the colours. It takes a lot of time to sort all of this. One by one, you have to decide if it can either become a purse, either become a coin purse or something else, and with which offcuts of leather you will associate it to make the final product (our purses are made of leather, shweshwe, wax print and polycotton offcuts, all those pieces needing to form a good-looking product together).

From there, we make little packets with all the matching pairs. And because our production happens in a township, we need to make sure that all the one-by-one selections we did, will be understood and sewed together as designed.

You now realize how much work and effort it takes to produce those unique purses, which price cannot exceed a certain level as it is “only” a “small repurposed item” for our customers, in spite of the time and attention its production had required.

I had always wondered why all the fashion designers and fashion companies in the world don’t reuse their offcuts and, given the work and the constraint of each little piece, I can now understand.

Another obstacle is the huge variety of colours and items you get. When I produce a new bag, I make sure I have enough material to manufacture a certain number of the same bag (even though I only do limited editions). This allows me to communicate about this bag, organize a photo-shoot, showcase the pictures, sell it online, have a certain permanency of the stock etc… Working with unique offcuts-made purses is much more complicated. It is quite difficult to showcase them online for example as it is unlikely that you would organize a professional photo-shoot for a low-price single unit. And in these Covid times, when now every commerce is rather happening online, it is not a small detail.

But let’s also keep in mind all the advantages: it may take longer to organize the production but the main materials have barely no costs as they are “technically” consider as waste. Also, you can communicate about the process and about your zero-waste policy, not only you feel good about it 😉 but your customers, retailers and business partners mostly appreciate the approach.

And last but not least, one of the kind products are always appraised!

Next step: working with other people’s offcuts! What if we stopped using “new materials” for our main lines of products and would be able to incorporate other businesses’ unused / unwanted materials? Let me tell you more about its pro and cons in a next chapter!

With love, Elise