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Daniel Silverstein: Shifting Fashion's Focus from Waist Size to Zero Waste

The Daniel Silverstein team, including Chris Anderson (second from left) and Silverstein (center). Below: Silverstein with design assistant Briana Vilayoune | Image credits: Daniel Silverstein

Since appearing on season two of NBC’s Fashion Star, Daniel Silverstein has made a name for himself in the eco-fashion world. According to the New York Times, the fashion industry generally discards 10-20 percent of the fabric used to manufacture apparel, but Silverstein disrupts the paradigm, using design-driven innovation to create a fashion line without fabric waste. We chatted with Silverstein and brand manager Chris Anderson to see what inspires them about designing without waste and where the future of fashion is headed.

Was there a particular moment that inspired you to create a zero-waste collection?

Silverstein: One of our assignments in my fashion illustration class at FIT was to design a pair of eco-friendly jeans, a challenge given by The Clinton Global Initiative. Rather than start the project by focusing on the materials, I decided to consider the pattern first. I had seen first hand the piles of fabric wasted on factory floors and was excited by the possibility that with a fresh approach to pattern making, this could change. Once I saw that this was possible, I was hooked.

You are continuously searching for ways to make your production greener. Where has this led you recently?

Silverstein: Since starting my collection in 2010, efforts to make my collection “greener” have focused on simplifying the zero-waste design technique. With each new collection, I find new ways to drape and incorporate all of the fabric into the design, allowing me to explore different aesthetics.

Anderson: When marketing the collection, we also work to minimize the amount of printed material we use. Fortunately, with social media, this is a lot easier to do than it used to be! We send out most of our communication electronically and limit the run of lookbooks we order. 

How does the Daniel Silverstein collection fit within the larger eco-fashion movement?

Silverstein: With any new business, it’s important to look at the industry you’re working in as a whole, identify issues that exist within that industry and figure out ways to solve them. And, that’s what we’re doing with our zero-waste design. It’s not so much about being green but rather about trying to make positive changes in the industry.

Anderson: It seems to me that the fashion industry’s increased focus on responsible practices has helped blur the line between “eco designer” and “designer.” I think this is an important development; it helps move the industry to a place where fashion is produced responsibly as a matter of course rather than as separate decision.

What are the hurdles zero-waste design forces in sourcing, designing and marketing? How do you work around them? 

Daniel Silverstein and Briana VilayouneSilverstein: With any kind of design, whether it’s building a house or constructing a skirt, it’s like solving a puzzle. You need to be able to take it apart and put it together again. With zero-waste design, the puzzle is a bit more complex. I have found that color-coding my patterns, instead of trying to explain the designs verbally, has been really helpful.

Anderson: My biggest hurdle is bumping up against negative perceptions of what “ethical” or “zero-waste” fashion means — it’s a marketing challenge. Unfortunately, memories of the early, style-challenged days of eco-fashion continue to linger. We think the best way around this roadblock is to simply focus marketing efforts on promoting the beauty of the designs rather than concentrating on the collection’s “green” qualities. 

What do you see as the future of zero-waste and eco-fashion?

Anderson: We think the future looks promising. As the industry continues to adopt more responsible practices, we think it’s only a matter of time before “ethical production” becomes the norm.

SB Issues in Focus For more examples of brands using sustainability as an innovation imperative, check out our Issue in Focus on #BrandInnovation.

Carola Beeney leads BBMG’s marketing communications efforts, including social media strategy and editorial outreach. Previously she developed and supported communications and event programming at ABC Carpet & Home.

[Read more about Carola Beeney]