Róisín Pierce’s Radical Reimagining of Zero Waste Fashion

Words by Daphne Chouliaraki Milner

Photographs and film by Daragh Soden

The fast-rising designer outlines why the pace of the current fashion calendar is at odds with respectful and sustainable industry practices.

Róisín Pierce has crafted just three collections—but already the Irish designer has made a name for herself. One of eight finalists of this year’s edition of the prestigious LVMH Prize, Pierce has become synonymous with intuitive construction processes and self-invented, zero waste techniques. Though—it also helps that her signature white, soft, confection-like garments are as beautiful as they are intricate.

 

Pierce spent her childhood and teenage years learning from her mother, a talented seamstress, who would routinely create clothes. It was only fitting, then, that Pierce went on to study textiles at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin. Just three years later, in 2019, she went on to become the first winner of the Chanel Prix des Métiers d’Art. It seems that fashion was on the cards for Pierce—but only if she could do it on her own terms.

Now, Pierce spends her days experimenting with tulle, organza, lace and satin, repeatedly smocking and draping small strips of fabric to create sculptural, three-dimensional shapes. It’s a time-consuming practice that prioritizes creativity and ingenuity—and that generates zero waste in the process. The results speak for themselves: a series of spectacular dresses and two-piece sets that are unlike anything else in fashion.

 

Below, Atmos speaks with Pierce about her radical zero waste and fabric-first approach to design, and why slowing down the fashion calendar matters.

Daphne Chouliaraki Milner

How did you first get interested in fashion?

Róisín Pierce

Since I was a child, academia and school weren’t for me. I was very dyslexic, so it wasn’t a place I felt I could thrive in. I found myself always in a very different world—playing, drawing, creating. My mom was a big influence on me, too. She was always making textiles and clothing when I
was growing up. Turning raw materials to a beautiful end piece, it was very magical seeing this creation process at a young age.

 

Then, when I was in my early teens, I got really interested in the idea of becoming a clothing maker. That’s when I began learning about basic construction. It wasn’t anything particularly special, but I would seek out ways to make simple dresses and jackets. I just wanted to learn all I could about construction. By my late teens, as I got more involved with art and textiles, I started concept-building, too, which eventually lead me to the National College of Art and Design in Ireland.

Daphne

Your creative process is fabric-first and sample-led. What does that mean in practice?

Róisín

It means working with different fabrics and testing them—whether that’s textile manipulations, trying different constructions, incorporating crochet. With each sample I feel like I’m answering the question: How can I make this more unique into something I haven’t seen before? It’s great because I’m working with these forgotten crafts, and looking to modernize and innovate them for a new generation. I feel so excited by design when I put something out that I haven’t seen done before.

 

The focus on sampling is to make sure that I generate as little waste as possible. I test to see what works, laying organza over satin, so everything is put to purpose. As a result, I’d say 90% of our collection is zero waste.

“The focus on sampling is to make sure that I generate as little waste as possible. I test to see what works so everything is put to purpose.”

Róisín Pierce

Daphne

And how exactly does a sample-led practice compliment a zero waste approach?

Róisín

It allows me to be more creative whilst having a more sustainable practice. I don’t usually sketch in advance, so I wouldn’t make anything unless I sample it and know that it’s going to work. I keep building a form using the materials available to me. The process is primarily zero waste in the same way that patchworking is. I start with a set number of fabric squares and make sure I utilize all of them in the construction process. While the squares are incorporated into the design in multiples, I might use different elements of the square or strip—drape it, layer it, crochet it, scallop it, or smock it—to create a really organic, three-dimensional shape. It’s a great process because it saves fabric but it also pushes me to seek new shapes and explore fresh ideas.

Daphne

I also wanted to ask you about your production calendar, and what informed your decision to present one collection a year? The industry as a whole has been discussing the need for more sustainable fashion calendars, but you’re one of few designers actually putting those words into practice.

Róisín

The bottom line is that a slower calendar respects the clothes. I thought to myself that if I wanted to do this, then it’s important that I prioritize my designs instead of a pace of working that’s determined by buyers and the press. That if I want to become a designer, I have to do it right. Also, it takes time to explore new ways of making garments. Each of my designs is completely unique. I never wanted to put out just T-shirts, but rather bring something new to the customer. For me, it was always about the renewal of craft, about innovation, and ultimately about creating something different. I don’t think I’d stay in this very long if I felt like I was rushed, and I didn’t get to say what I want to say or to do what I wanted to do.

 

It’s not easy. When buyers place orders with me and I tell them it’s one collection a year, they get worried that they might lose customers who are used to more frequent drops. One store told me they had never, in their history, bought a one-per-year collection. Yet, now they’re coming to me asking about order placements. I really hope that we see more of these changes. Because I don’t see myself rushing to fit into any kind of calendar.

Daphne

Beyond the buyer expectations you just outlined, what are the challenges you face as an independent zero waste, slow fashion designer?

Róisín

One of the biggest challenges I face is time. The construction of a garment made entirely from small fabric strips or that requires intricate smocking is complicated. Perhaps one of the reasons why this kind of slow design isn’t done so much is because it’s not simple—much more is needed for a garment to go into construction. But that’s also what I love: combining different techniques and building new shapes all while generating zero waste. It also means that, especially now I’ve established my visual language and my processes, I’m never stuck. I always know where I’m going next—even if I take a break, it only takes a few moments to get back into it and start designing again.

Daphne

In that sense, it sounds like your zero waste approach also complements your creativity.

Róisín

Yes. That’s why I like it so much, too. The development process is as inspiring as my concepts, which I have a deep connection to. I feel lucky to have found this way of working.

Daphne

You were selected as one of eight finalists of this year’s prestigious LVMH Prize. And now you’re working towards your next collection now. Tell me: what excites you about the future?

Róisín

I’m excited to start working on the next collection. It sounds cliché, but I’ve been so busy I haven’t been feeling so inspired. It’s been all work—I haven’t had time to listen to podcasts or watch documentaries. But now, I had a little break at the weekend, I’ve formed my idea of what I want to base the next collection on. It feels very natural, and it relates to my childhood. So, I feel like I’m back on the right path.

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