The world's first ever zero-waste swimwear brand – and it's from New Zealand

A Kiwi fashion designer is challenging the industry to embrace sustainable consumption and production by pioneering the world’s first ever zero-waste swimwear brand.

As much as 30 percent of the textiles used in clothing production end up on the cutting room floor – but Papamoa local Emma La Rocca, founder of Emroce Zero Waste Swimwear, uses an innovative design pattern that means no fabric goes unused. 

Contact Energy wants to profile those who, like Emroce, are using long-lasting innovation to make New Zealand a better place to live for now and for future generations. Thanks to Contact and the Home Guardians initiative, individuals will be rewarded with $5,000 so they can keep making a measurable difference to our shared home.

La Rocca was inspired to launch Emroce in 2013 because the swimsuits she was using for surfing and swimming “weren’t really working properly for me”. 

“Every swimsuit that I've bought, I've had to change – I've had to sew it myself and adapt it to fit my body better so that it doesn't come off in the waves,” she explains.

“I realised there wasn’t a swimwear brand that really works the way that I needed to work in the water.” 

But beyond creating swimwear that was functional, La Rocca was also desperate for Emroce to have a positive impact on the planet – a goal she has achieved in two key ways.

First, she learned about and started using Econyl, an alternative fabric to nylon made from waste products, which she describes as a “breakthrough moment” in her fashion design journey. 

And secondly, inspired by the zero-waste philosophies and techniques she absorbed while at university, Emroce has adopted a method that fits garments together perfectly like a puzzle so that no fabric is unnecessarily discarded.

“Zero-waste pattern-making just seems to work really well with swimwear, because swimsuit tops and bottoms are really just triangles, and small triangles are an easy thing to fit into a pattern,” La Rocca says. 

The technique is inspired by the zero-waste patterns of Japanese kimono and ensures that every centimetre of fabric is being used to its full potential.

“Usually with normal patternmaking, between 15 percent and 30 percent of the fabric is wasted. You draw a picture of something that you want to make, then make the pattern, sew it up and hope that it looks like the picture – but there is no thought into how much fabric it's going to waste.  

“But when you're trying to ‘design out’ the waste completely, like we are, you're using the zero-waste pattern-making method as part of your design process, not just as a second step. In effect, you’re using your patterns to inspire your design.”

The response from Kiwis to Emroce’s philosophy has been incredible, La Rocca says. 

“They're just really blown away by it. They think it’s amazing that something like this is happening here in New Zealand, and that they hadn't heard of it.”

Emroce’s zero-waste approach is one that could make a real difference to the planet. The global clothing industry is a shocking polluter, with 92 million tonnes of textile waste ending up in landfills each year – the equivalent of a rubbish truck of clothes every second

“It’s crazy to me that there are textiles being made and then not even being used – they’re just being sent to landfill,” La Rocca says.

For this reason, she wants to spread her knowledge and ability of zero-waste fashion design as everywhere as she can across the industry – to major clothing manufacturers and the next generation of fashion designers alike. 

“I see Emroce as my way of practising and perfecting my zero-waste business model so that I can take what I do to large fashion companies and teach them how to create less waste,” she explains.

“The reason I'm doing Emroce is to help the world, and the way that I can have a large impact is through the companies who are already huge and making massive amounts of waste and teaching them how to reduce that. It's quite a win-win, because you're reducing their fabric usage, so you're saving them money. 

“I also want to run design workshops in all of the major cities in New Zealand so that fashion students and fashion teachers from universities and high schools, and small fashion brands, they can all learn how to use these techniques – because you really need to try them out with your hands to see how easy they are to achieve.”

Article created in partnership with Contact Energy.