Updated: Jun 21
From Ignorance to Activism
I'm going on 10 years since my eyes were first opened to the harsh realities of the fashion industry. Up until that point, children in sweatshops were television punchlines, and sustainability stopped at recycling my dads empty beer cans in exchange for coins. I was far removed, as were most of us, but once I woke up there was no going back.
Since then much of my life has become devoted to the cause. In that time, accessibility to sustainable resources has increased tenfold. It seems like there are more blogs, brands, and manufacturers devoted to ethical and sustainable fashion than ever before! However, with the "eco friendly trend" also comes many a wolf in sheep's clothes.
Greenwashing, the deceptive practice of falsely promoting products or services as environmentally friendly, has run rampant. Even for the most earnestly eco minded, discerning between real and fake claims poses its share of challenges.
This leads us to the question: Is deadstock fabric the environmental salvation that so many claim? Or is it just another greenwashed marketing scheme gone too far?
What Is Deadstock Fabric?
Deadstock Materials are those unused or excess fabrics that have been produced by textile manufacturers but not utilized or sold to its intended buyers. It can include fabric remnants, surplus materials from previous production runs, or fabrics that were canceled or rejected by the intended customer. Deadstock fabric often remains in warehouses or storage facilities, and if not repurposed or sold, may end up being discarded or destroyed.
Based on this definition alone, using deadstock fabrics as an eco friendly alternative seems like a given. Unfortunately, it isn't quite so simple.
Is Deadstock Fabric a Sustainable Option?
In theory, the answer is yes, but it is important to understand the nuances of its sustainability.
Finding a purpose for textiles that would otherwise be thrown to the wayside seems to be the crux of that little green triangle we were taught about in primary school: reduce, reuse, recycle. Much like that triangle though, it is a vast oversimplification of the issue at hand.
Deadstock's Seedy Underbelly
The truth of the matter is, blindly buying any old deadstock fabrics is feeding the very overproduction that we seek to eliminate.
It encourages big brands to be free in their wastefulness, unhindered by the financial repercussions, which let's be honest, are the only repercussions they're concerned about.
So while a designer might think that working with already produced polyester is an act of textile waste rebellion, it is in fact giving the green light to these companies to carry on producing (and overproducing) the filthy plastic textile.
It's a pickle, another effort to 'be the change' foiled by crafty systems determined to keep on their destructive war path, but the road to hell was paved with good intentions.
The widespread marketing spin that "buying deadstock fabrics keeps them out of landfills" only reenforces the practice.
An industry rife with overproduction and waste
While it is impossible to make a blanket statement about all brands in the fashion industry, intentional overproduction of textiles with the purpose of selling the leftovers as deadstock is more common than most care to admit. It is a common practice in the fashion industry fueled by many factors, including uncertain demand, short lead times, and the desire to maximize profits.
This practice can be seen by larger fashion houses as a strategy to mitigate financial risks, particularly for brands operating in fast fashion who heavily rely on trends and seasonal collections. By intentionally overproducing and treating the surplus as deadstock, they can attempt to minimize losses and maximize revenue.
This overstock, which more often than not is made up of unethically produced plastic based textile, is unsustainable to its very core. The widespread marketing spin that "buying deadstock fabrics keeps them out of landfills" only reenforces the practice.
Deadstock is Hurting Sustainable Fashion's Traceability Efforts
Deadstock items typically lack the same level of traceability that newly produced sustainable fashion items offer. While many sustainable brands prioritize supply chain transparency, deadstock items may come from more mysterious sources and likely do not adhere to the same rigorous standards. This can make it challenging for consumers to verify the origins and sustainability credentials of deadstock garments.
Is Deadstock Ever a Sustainable Option?
The hard time that I'm giving deadstock fabrics is entirely justified, and I won't fold on that. Under the correct circumstances, though, it can in fact be a sustainable option.
Deadstock That's Worth Your Time of Day
The sustainability of deadstock fabric depends on various factors. It is crucial to consider the source and production practices associated. Ideally, clothing brands should prioritize sourcing deadstock fabric from manufacturers who adhere to ethical and fair labor standards, ensuring that it is not linked to exploitative practices or harmful environmental impacts.
There are many genuine scenarios where fashion houses over order from their fabric mill completely unintentionally. For instance, it is possible that the high quality materials which they so thoughtfully and lovingly decided on were not well received by their customer base. In such cases, where the supply chain of said leftover fabric is easily traced, and where ethical and sustainable measures were clearly taken, repurposing is a win for everybody involved.
Deadstock and Fashion Startups
The reality for fashion start ups and smaller brands is that producing virgin textiles is expensive and often unrealistic. Minimum order quantity (MOQ) with most fabric mills doesn't often start any lower than 1000 meters! This is a massive investment for small brands, especially when taking into account the extra costs associated with producing eco friendly materials. It's risky too, with said brands generally having a lower marketing budget and smaller audience in general, selling the hundreds (or thousands) of garments which 1000 meters of fabric can produce is a daunting task. In cases such as these, deadstock fabrics, which can be purchased by the meter, offer a low risk solution.
This isn't to say, however, that deadstock (even when sustainably sourced) will solve every issue that the small brand encounters. It is still a finite resource, after all. Its availability and variety is limited, which can pose challenges for designers seeking consistency.
Vintage deadstock, while equally finite as its generic counterpart, is another valid option for a clothing brand looking to reduce their carbon footprint.
This waste fabric is often discovered in warehouses, storage facilities, or old inventories decades after its production. Despite its age, vintage deadstock is often in pristine condition, as it has been stored carefully and remains untouched. It can be sought after by individuals, designers, or vintage clothing enthusiasts who appreciate its unique qualities, historical value, and limited availability. Fashion brand Mia Vesper, for example, is a master of transforming vintage fabrics into unique and eye catching custom sized garments.
It is important for designers to note however that natural fibers such as cotton, linen, or silk can be more susceptible to brittleness compared to synthetic fibers like polyester or nylon. However, this is not always the case, and proper storage and care can help preserve the integrity of vintage deadstock fabric.
In Conclusion: If Choosing Deadstock, Tread Carefully
Deadstock fabric is no magical quick fix to fashion's sustainability problem, despite what you may have been told.
It can be a sustainable option, yes, but as with any sustainability issue it is not black and white. It is crucial that brands carefully investigate the entire lifecycle of their textiles, including the practices and standards of the original fabric suppliers, as well as the fashion house's intentions behind their overproduction to begin with.
To truly embrace sustainable practices, brands should focus on reducing overproduction, implementing better forecasting methods, and adopting circular economy principles to minimize waste and maximize resource efficiency. While utilizing deadstock fabric can help address some of the consequences of overproduction, it should never be used as a justification for intentional overproduction itself.