‘We already know why we need to think sustainably, but does anyone really know how to move forward?’ It’s a question emerging designer Danielle Elsener has been investigating since she was eight years old, when she started selling painted rocks and trash cans to susceptible family members and friends. The Portland-based London College of Art graduate has dedicated her life’s work to proving zero waste as a valid and robust design model. What began as a childhood love for puzzle solving, is fast becoming a way to fix the fashion industry’s biggest problem.

The world’s most innovative design forces are taking note. She’s certainly impressed Virgil Abloh, his multidisciplinary design studio Alaska Alaska, and Shweta Harit, Evian’s Global VP, who judged the Activate Movement Program which launched in February 2020. The first-of-its-kind program offered 18-35-year olds the opportunity to win a €50,000 grant for sustainable design projects. The panel was looking for purpose-minded solutions engaging in waste reduction, minimising energy consumption or recycling.

Elsener’s winning entry, titled ‘A020’, is a zero waste design system that aims to challenge fashion and textile industry waste standards. ‘A020’ aims to maximise efficiency within the production process, and Danielle will use the €50,000 grant to build a learning platform for designers to continue to improve their zero waste design systems. ‘Creating a system of tools, workshops and manufacturing takes power back from large fashion brands to the individual,’ she explains. ‘"A020" will be a learning platform, to share our findings and improve our systems moving forward.’

Though the details of how the platform will actually work are yet to be revealed, the ethos behind ‘A020’ is a powerful one, centering on the sharing of information and best practice models around waste reduction techniques. ‘The impact of giving the power of information to creative individuals is potentially astounding,’ Elsener continues. ‘What starts as a seemingly simple tool turns into a vehicle for change, creating a tidal wave of new thinkers and innovators with sustainability built into their core ethos. Apathy is the biggest threat to the planet, but this easy and effective solution offers motivation and a clear direction for those who want to make change and take action.’

It’s about accountability, transparency and learning – traits that were once all too often brushed aside as unimportant, or too expensive. But Elsener is keen to emphasise the potential commercial gain of a zero waste design system, as well as its environmental benefits. ‘Zero Waste Design takes time and effort to create and execute, but once it’s developed, the savings are astronomical. The method saves resources and money for all involved without having to sacrifice design,’ she explains. ‘A standard garment wastes an average of 15 per cent of material. If we extrapolate on these numbers, the amount of savings from 100 people practicing zero waste design is impactful. 100,000 is monumental. 1,000,000 is going to change the world.’

Elsener is thinking big, and this impactful grant has given her license to do so. She was particularly impressed by the age restrictions placed on entrants. ‘18-35 is an age group that often includes those who fall through the cracks’, she says. ‘We have the dreams, the ideals and the know-how to execute, but often these ideas fall on hesitant ears due to their radical nature or our lack of time in the “real world.”’

‘This is a crucial time for development, where we as designers, and as people, decide how we interact with the world. It’s easy to let our dreams get quieter and slowly align with the current system. Having the grit to take a stand for change is grueling work, but his spotlight eases that burden. This spotlight grants acknowledgement that the movement behind change is growing. This spotlight is going to change the future.’ §