Over the years, we’ve noticed a shift within the fashion industry towards sustainable and ethical practices. From selecting high-quality, sustainable fabrics to transparency in the supply chain, brands are making changes. In this light, there has been a rise in the use of deadstock fabric.
For deadstock fabric, brands buy offcuts and excess fabric from other fashion houses. Doing so, in turn, saves these fabrics from ending up as waste in the environment and releasing toxic chemicals into our waterways.
However, the question remains, is deadstock fabric as sustainable as it appears? In this article, we’ve broken down information on what you need to know about deadstock fabrics.
Deadstock fabric refers to surplus, leftover fabric and offcuts from a fabric mill or fashion houses. Usually, these textiles end up in landfills or burnt. Instead, small ethical companies and designers buy them as a sustainable alternative to create new fashion pieces.
This kind of interaction serves as a business transaction. The fabric producers with leftover fabric are sellers, while the often smaller designers are the buyers. The process entails reclaiming or saving textiles that would otherwise end up discarded. As such, the practice prevents waste.
It’s not news that the textile and clothing industry generates a ton of waste. Not only do these come from unused fabric and textiles, but also due to the overproduction of fabrics and clothing.
In 2018, the designer brand Burberry came under a lot of heat for burning unused products. The business revealed that in July 2018, it had burned 28.6 million pounds, about $37 million worth of products. It turns out this practice had become widespread in the industry.
Following the backlash, this fashion house decided to put an end to this practice by embracing new sustainability efforts. This situation serves as an example of which excess new fabric and clothing from factories, mills, and companies end up causing environmental issues.
Further, other labels have followed suit to reduce or even eliminate deadstock fabric from their supply chains, and where it does exist, make sure it finds a good home elsewhere as someone else's more sustainable materials.
Ultimately, deadstock shows up in different forms. Sometimes in the form of excess fabric from clothing factories. Other times they are textiles that have been damaged or don’t meet the quality standards of the designers.
When a small sustainable, and ethical brand purchases deadstock or reclaimed fabric, it creates something new. Some of these can even be hand-made or blended with vintage clothing to create upcycled fashion. From mixing materials to form a new pattern to generating new designs, unique pieces spring up.
Sometimes fashion brands overestimate how much fabric and material they need. As a result, factories tend to have leftovers for these companies. Also, after cutting, sewing, and stitching materials to form items, there’s usually the question of what to do with the offcuts.
The rolls of excess fabric then form what we know as deadstock. When we examine the numbers, we can see how much of a negative impact these practices have. In the USA alone, over 11 million tons of textiles are sent to landfills yearly. Additionally, the fashion industry generates 20% of the world’s wastewater.
Related: Take a deeper dive into fast fashion facts and statistics.
Through the business of buying these excess materials, small companies help to revive or reclaim them. These conscious brands provide fashion-conscious customers with guilt-free clothing with the benefits of reducing excess waste.
To provide a proper breakdown of how companies generate deadstock fabric, we’ve highlighted some ways brands create such fabrics:
Many times, these big brands sell deadstock fabric to jobbers. These people are fabric suppliers who on-sell these excess products to small fashion businesses. When small designers access these textiles, they can experiment with different color types and materials to create new items. They do this while engaging in best practices that help contribute to a cleaner and safer world, to an extent.
Moreover, acquiring deadstock fabric can prove a real benefit for smaller brands as they may not need to reproduce certain materials. This, in turn, can also provide customers access to limited collections.
The pioneering upcycling fashion brand, From Somewhere, introduced the idea of ‘Reclaim To Wear.’ Orsola de Castro and Filippo Ricci kick-started his movement in 1997.
The Reclaim To Wear concept centers around creating garments from remnants and disposed of materials. These include materials and fabrics such as designer surplus, vintage, stock, second-hand clothing, and off-cuts.
Reclaim To Wear offers solutions to change our environment and world by upcycling clothes blended with design. It also embraces the shift towards a less wasteful and more sustainable future. The reclaim-to-wear process involves transforming and re-designing discarded clothing and surplus textiles. By so doing, we prolong the value and life cycle of pieces.
Is deadstock fabric sustainable? Although deadstock fabric in itself is not necessarily sustainable, acquiring it to divert it from becoming waste is sustainable.
Reclaimed fabric is often a go-to option for early-stage brands seeking small quantities of fabric for their lines. With deadstock fabrics, new designers do not have to subscribe to purchase a minimum order quantity. They have the opportunity to experiment with these excess fabrics from the bigger fashion houses.
In this light, the biggest win for deadstock fabric is that it helps to divert waste fabric. A product made from deadstock may also prove considerably cheaper compared to buying fabrics first-hand. As a result, brands can source excellent quality fabrics rather than producing their garments with fabrics of half the quality.
As the world is constantly evolving, something new is always emerging. Various resource shops collect fabric scraps, such as Fab Scrap. This business is based in the USA and serves as a popular resource for reclaimed fabric.
The team works with companies and designers to collect fabric and other materials that mills and manufacturers would otherwise throw out. Fab Scrap, and other similar fabric marketplaces, provide access to a wide range of fabrics.
Asides from this resource, small shops, and businesses (like Etsy shops) offer reclaimed deadstock selections. So if you’re an individual looking to acquire such fabrics while supporting a small business, Etsy provides a marketplace.
On the flip side, there’s the tendency to put the work of clearing up deadstock or waste on small businesses. This can be unrealistic as these businesses cannot really completely divert all materials from becoming waste.
Also, we cannot always turn deadstock fabric into useful things. Something that has apparent damages, for instance, may not find a second use. A range of other issues can also render excess fabric useless, from soiling to the sizes of offcuts, through it not finding a buyer. At the end of the day, we cannot rescue all deadstock items.
In this section of the article, we’ve made a list of some designers and brands using deadstock materials.
For your sustainably sourced deadstock fabric dress, Christy Dawn is the designer for that. This brand offers timeless, sustainable, and ethical dresses and accessories. The brand creates each product with either GOTS-certified organic cotton or deadstock fabric as part of its sustainable efforts, giving deadstock fabric new life. The cotton collection is in partnership with Oshadi Collective in Erode, India.
People know this company for its popular line: “Being naked is the #1 most sustainable option. Reformation is #2”. This clothing brand limits its fabric selection to those that have less impact on the environment.
These sustainable and recycled materials include deadstock, certified silk, linen, recycled cotton, vintage clothing, and recycled cashmere. When next you’re looking to shop for a pretty dress or comfortable pair of jeans, this brand offers something to complement your style.
Anekdot sources surplus pieces from deadstock product, production leftovers, offcuts, end-of-line, and vintage trimmings. The brand then transforms these pieces into functional and deliberate essentials. Anekdot creates handcrafted underwear and lingerie pieces in limited editions.
Looptworks, an upcycled clothing brand, creates zero-waste pieces using 100% upcycled materials. This company specializes in repurposing and upcycling abandoned deadstock fabric textiles into eco-friendly, limited-edition products. Looptworks’ products reduce carbon emissions, divert waste from waste dumps, and conserve water. The brand offers backpacks, duffels, totes, and apparel.
Tonlé is a zero-waste, ethical, and innovative brand. The manufacturers make use of reclaimed materials to create the products. This is in line with its zero-waste and sustainable principles. The production process for Tonlé begins with sourcing unused pieces and scrap from mass producers of clothes.
The workers cut unused fabrics into strips and individually sew them into yarn. They then turn these into Tonlé designs. This brand’s values are ‘purposeful, inclusive, and honest.’ From acquiring raw fabric for production to lasting sustainable actions, the team believes that every process taken has a purpose.
For lasting change to occur as part of the industry’s efforts, companies need to embrace using sustainable fabrics. Fabrics like organic cotton, mechanically processed bamboo fabric, and the Lenzing Modal fabric are eco-friendly options. Sustainable clothing brands also tend to have standards and practices in place to prevent overproduction.
Although purchasing deadstock fabric helps divert fabrics from landfills, many more excesses end up as waste. Also, a lot of these reclaimed textiles are synthetic and, therefore, still toxic to the environment.
This article serves as a guide to understanding deadstock fabric. There are many ways to key into sustainable and ethical practices. Patronizing deadstock products and reclaimed fabrics is only one way. Although, for several reasons, it isn’t always the most eco-friendly way for the apparel industry to achieve sustainability.
Overall, the journey to making the fashion world cleaner and safer starts with each person. So grab a friend and engage in progressive discussions and actions toward a better world.
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.