It’s Waste Reduction Week in Canada, and to celebrate, I spoke to some superstar companies reducing waste through product design that are featured in the National Zero Waste Council’s Design Portfolio. Earlier this week, we highlighted food waste solutions from Abeego and Club Coffee. For this final article of the three-part series, I spoke to designer Katherine Soucie about her unique fashion brand, Sans Soucie.
“Design is about solving problems,” she told me. It’s why she does what she does.
Soucie started becoming more interested in waste as a buyer for a textile company, but the “a-ha” moment that spawned the Sans Soucie brand came to her in a dollar store as she stared at a wall of cheap pantyhose. Designed to be as low cost as possible and sent to a landfill after limited use, she recognized that they were made using almost the same techniques since hosiery fiber was introduced in 1939.
“I thought, well, that is a really big design problem … Something needs to happen with this material resource,” she explained. “I decided to take on this challenge and see what I could do with it.”
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Soucie spent about a year playing around with hosiery as a material before she could effectively dye it and make it into machine-washable garments. With her newfound techniques, she created a collection for her Master’s project and won the scholarship that she used to set up her studio in Vancouver, British Columbia. What started as a school project has become a successful fashion brand that’s still going strong 15 years later.
“These materials exist — that’s the problem. It’s sad that they exist; they don’t biodegrade, but we have to do something with them. It’s not like we can eradicate the production of nylon, let alone hosiery,” Soucie said. “It’s great to have things sustainably manufactured, but in the case of some of these traditional materials, we still have to deal with them. We can’t ignore the problem.”
Sans Soucie clothing is crafted using pre-consumer waste from hosiery mills. Initially, mills were a bit confused as to why someone wanted their factory waste, but over the years Soucie has formed strong, supportive partnerships with many facilities across North America. With over 200 structures of hosiery now on the market, she has had to invest in significant research and development to figure out how to use them in her collections — especially since she often doesn’t know what mills will send her. Sometimes the material comes as a roll, while other times she receives fully constructed products that have specific flaws. Luckily, her customers are willing to wait for her unique, sustainable and hand-crafted clothing.
“For example, I do these very specific leggings that I can only make when I get that hosiery. I’ll have a waiting list, even if it takes two years,” she said. “People will wait if they know it’s something that they really want and if they understand the process that goes into it. That part is quite special.”
Soucie takes great care to ensure her process creates as few impacts as possible. She only dyes her materials between April and October, when it is easier to air dry them in Vancouver’s warmer, drier months. The materials come white; since they haven’t been dyed yet, Soucie is able to use all-natural pigments for dyeing and vinegar is all she needs to bond the dye molecules with the textile fiber. The printing process she uses allows pigment to rest on the surface, which helps make the garments abrasion-resistant and machine-washable. Water used in the process is reused over and over — and the water is clear when it’s done.
“There are a certain amount of people working in the apparel industry that have been pioneering waste-reduction techniques, and there’s been a conversation globally that’s happening. So, when I came across the [National Zero Waste Council] website, I was excited to find that it was here and to get involved with something pioneered here on the West Coast,” Soucie said.
Since reaching out and getting involved with the NZWC, Soucie has found it rewarding to connect with people across Canada who are also actively working to reduce waste.
“Being part of something like this allows for more meaningful connections — and for more things to happen. There are so many resources here, there is so much we can do,” she added.
Sans Soucie is featured in the National Zero Waste Council’s Design Portfolio, which involves an application process but is not a certification. To be included in the Portfolio, products are evaluated based on three (simplified) stages of their lifecycle: pre-, during and post-use. It also has a substantive set of design principles vetted by external professionals to guide a way forward towards design that prevents and/or reduces waste. These factors keep the Portfolio easy to understand and offer direction to designers and companies aiming to deliver on waste prevention and reduction.
“There are always by-products that other people can utilize and be inspired to do things with,” Soucie said. “[The Design Portfolio] not only allows for community engagement, but the conversation is getting deeper and further. People can become more aware of the things they consume and the value associated with that, which means a lot to me, too.”
Interested businesses with at least one exemplary product or packaging are encouraged to apply.
Join NZWC for ZWC 2017 — a day-long event highlighting five key areas of innovation: plastics, textiles, food, circular cities and business innovation*, this year's conference will present important insights on how we adapt and set the course for a circular economy in Canada.*