The Excess Fabric Solution: What is Deadstock Fabric?

Deadstock fabric

The Excess Fabric Solution: What is Deadstock Fabric?

From burning clothes to burying them, fashion’s destruction of dead stock is not only expensive but leaves a heavy environmental impact. So, what is deadstock fabric and how can we use these unsold, forgotten fabrics to make a more sustainable fashion sector?

Deadstock fabric is excess fabric that clothing companies and textile mills have leftover. This leftover fabric can be already made into a garment or still unused textile.

120 billion dollars, that is the value of excess fabric populating the world’s warehouses. Similarly, deadstock is thought to cost the fashion sector an incredible $152 billion every year. Everyone from high-end names to fast fashion brands is guilty of destroying quality excess fabric.

This staggeringly high economic cost is only beaten on the sustainability front. Disposing of deadstock contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, carbon footprints and is a major source of fabric waste. For more on our clothing waste problem, see here.

Absorbing deadstock back into the fashion sector is often cited as a sustainable solution to fashion’s waste crisis. But, what does the deadstock fabric market look like, and is deadstock fabric really sustainable?

What is Deadstock Fabric?

Deadstock fabrics
Photo by Nafinia Putra on Unsplash

Put simply, deadstock fabric is excess or unused fabric. This extra fabric is commonly a result of leftover fabric scraps from the cutting process, faults or misprints in the material, or a company simply overestimating its fabric needs or underselling its product.

92 Million Tons of Waste

Historically this unused fabric would have been thrown away, and sadly that does still happen. In 2017 Burberry made headlines when it burnt $37 million worth of product that it couldn’t sell. Similarly, in 2017, the annual amount of solid textile waste was estimated to be a staggering 92 million tons.

While deadstock disposal isn’t the only guilty party in making up those 92 million tons, it does form a key part of fashion’s textile waste statistics. 

Wasting in Warehouses

Furthering this issue, some deadstock textiles inconveniently don’t last long in warehouses. Stock stored in warehouses can become prey to mould, damp, mildew, and bugs. Natural fibres like cotton can be particularly prone, while lace and elastic stored for a long time in poor conditions can impact the quality and longevity of the product. 

Deadstock fabric wasting in warehouse
Photo by Francois Le Nguyen on Unsplash

Most fashion companies will inevitably have some level of deadstock fabric. It is what it does with this surplus fabric that counts. Sustainable companies must ask the questions, what deadstock fabric do they produce and how can its impacts be reduced? 

Although there is no doubt that the fashion sector has a waste problem, the deadstock issue isn’t all bad news. There are clever companies out there giving a new life to unused materials; see our article on companies creating clothing from some interesting recycled materials here

Giving a New Life to Forgotten Fabric

So, this brings us to the all-important question of is deadstock fabric sustainable? 

When effectively used, this fabric is a valuable resource for sustainable fashion companies. Clever clothing companies are using deadstock fabric to create new garments, and giving a new value to this leftover material.  

Using quality excess fabric comes with advantages on both the sustainability and style fronts.

1. One-Of-a-Kind Designs

One of a kind designs
Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

As deadstock fabric often comes in limited amounts, brands that use it must be clever in their designs to create the best styles with the fabric available. This creative outlook leads to truly one-of-a-kind pieces that are different from what you will find in other high street stores. 

Deadstock fabrics aren’t mass-ordered with a specific garment range in mind. As such, brands that use these fabric supplies usually create more limited runs or one-off pieces. This limited supply leads to a unique individuality when buying from clothing companies that utilise deadstock fabric. 

2. The Lower Carbon Option 

Lower carbon footprint than creating new fabric

It’s no secret that making new fabric takes a steep environmental toll. When this material is then needlessly thrown away, that environmental toll is worsened. As deadstock fabric already exists, the carbon footprint associated with its use pales in comparison to creating new textiles.

Huge amount of usual waste is saved

Rolls of fabric
Photo by Ethan Bodnar on Unsplash

Brands that use leftover fabric give quality material a whole new life. When on average 15% of fabric is wasted in just the cutting process, the amount of fabric using deadstock saves really adds up.

Less fabric sent to landfill

Gaining even more eco-friendly points, using leftover fabric saves it from littering landfills or being burnt. Aside from the obvious wastage, both burning and burying fabric is a disastrously polluting activity. Using deadstock fabric not only saves quality material, but mitigates the emissions that would have been created to destroy it.

3. A Helping Hand for Small Designers

Reduced Price Tag

For the budding sustainable fashion start-up,  considering what deadstock fabric can do for them and how it can be used is advantageous. As deadstock textiles are essentially excess, unused fabrics, they often come with a reduced price tag. For cash-strapped start-ups, the economic benefits of buying deadstock fabric can make good business sense. 

Smaller Orders Possible

By its very nature, deadstock materials have a limited supply. Brands that don’t need the volume of fabric that larger brands do, can benefit from being able to place smaller orders. This helps fashion start-ups save money, time, and warehouse space by buying stock with a reduced or non-existent minimum order quantity. 

Small designers designs
Photo by Alexander Sergienko on Unsplash

Available Faster

As deadstock fabric already exists, it also generally is available faster than made-to-order textiles. With the fashion industry operating at a rapid pace, this faster availability is always a welcome concept. 

What is Deadstock Fabric’s Limitation?

Using quality deadstock fabrics in the fashion industry forms part of the solution to the monster that is fashion’s waste problem. However, the use of deadstock fabric does have its limits and it isn’t always a perfect system. 

1. The Ethical Quandary 

Embracing deadstock textiles for new garment production keeps quality threads from going to waste, but it doesn’t ensure ethical manufacturing. There are no strict requirements as to where deadstock fabric comes from. While some fabric is sure to come from only the most purely ethical production sources, some started life in shadowy supply chains and unethical factories.

2. Production Mishaps  

While some stunning textiles find their way into the deadstock fabric pile, some are there because they didn’t quite get a passing grade for quality. Fabric can be unwanted because of misprints, defaults, and quality mishaps. Issues that prevented the fabric from originally being used can make it unsuitable for later use or can lower the overall quality of clothing created from it.

Some fabrics also go unused because of problems with waterproofing or dying mistakes that can make them irritating to the skin.

To make a bad situation worse, most textile mills don’t have to tell buyers why a fabric was rejected. This means that buying deadstock fabric can be a stressful gamble when it comes to quality.

3. Greenwashing and Deliberate Over-production

Greenwashing with deadstock fabrics
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

While most deadstock is genuine, some sneaky companies have found a way to turn an unethical profit through deliberate overproduction. Mills that deliberately overproduce materials to sell an excess to a sustainably-minded market have become a new trend of textile greenwashing. This process makes us rethink what deadstock fabric is and if it really counts as deadstock? 

Reselling Overpriced Deadstock 

Furthering this concept, the uniquely shady ‘deadstock jobbers’ have emerged. Deadstock jobbers will buy deadstock material from textile mills only to resell it at higher prices to fashion houses. While not every jobber or deadstock marketplace operates unethically, those that do are creating a real problem in the industry. 

Both deliberate overproduction and selling deadstock fabric at exorbitantly higher prices are forms of greenwashing that set the whole market back.

Brands selling Deadstock Materials

There are some clever brands out there that have already made inroads into the deadstock fabric market.

Nona source

Nona Source logo
Nona Source @nona_source

With its name derived from Roman mythology and symbolising necessary change and human destiny, Nona is the first online, high-end fabric resale platform. The initiative was started by the Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH) conglomerate and sells deadstock from exclusive French fashion houses.

Nona gives a platform for people to engage with deadstock, by offering an easily accessible online marketplace.

Is it Sustainable?

Nona’s overall sustainability is where it gets a little trickier. Nona’s engagement with deadstock fabric is sustainable. However, companies in the LVMH group that Nona is a part of have had some sustainable missteps. In saying this, Nona itself seems to be ticking the right boxes. The company is showing that deadstock fabric can be sustainable.

With fabric waste allegations against industry giants including Nike, and Louis Vuitton, fashion’s relationship with deadstock waste is strained to say the least. This strained relationship is why Nona is so vital. Nona provides an avenue for LVMH luxury brands to engage in a more positive deadstock relationship.

By 2021 Nona had sourced an impressive 1,000 fabrics from LVMH owned brands. By 2022 it plans to have doubled this number. Although there is always more to be done, Nona’s efforts to make a more responsible high-fashion sector should be applauded.

Queen of Raw

Queen of Raw logo
Queen of Raw @queenofraw

Queen of Raw is another online marketplace for deadstock material. Determined to spread industry knowledge, Queen of Raw explains what deadstock fabric is and how it can be sustainable. 

The marketplace sells everything from scrap packs (a variety of small fabric scraps) to luxury fabrics. Not shy about its sustainable goals, Queen of Raw has ambitious targets. The organisation has already impressively saved 1 billion gallons of water through selling deadstock fabric. 

Queen of Raw has made it easy to access deadstock fabric. It has formed a simplified system to encourage customers and sellers to move towards a less wasteful sector.

A New Fashion Industry

Working with deadstock fabrics
Photo by ActionVance on Unsplash

Fabric waste is a devastating problem in the fashion industry, and unused deadstock fabric forms part of this issue. While there are pros and cons to deadstock fabric use, it remains an actionable way to combat textile waste. There are companies already working to make deadstock part of a sustainable tomorrow that should be commended for their efforts. 

So, what is deadstock fabric and is deadstock fabric sustainable?

The simple answer is that it is quality fabric that can be a key part of a sustainable fashion sector, and that exists on an inherently sustainable ideal of wasting less.

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