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Deadstock Fabric is NOT as Sustainable as You Think

There has been a lot of recent hype around deadstock fabric as a solution to garment production in the sustainable fashion world. But, what is it that you are really buying when you buy a dress made out of deadstock fabric. And, is it as eco-friendly as we have all been lead to believe?

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In this article:

unused fabric in a mill

what is fashion made with deadstock fabric? and, what does deadstock mean?

So, what is deadstock? And, what does deadstock mean? Deadstock refers to old fabric that hasn’t been able to sell. Maybe there are small damages, maybe the company who purchased it ordered too much. Maybe they are scraps from factories cutting room floor that are being sewn together and made into something new, like Zero Waste Daniel.

Or, maybe there is a small little-known industry secret.

how is deadstock fabric eco-friendly?

The thought process goes, that because this fabric is extra if it is not rescued by “eco” brands it will end up in a landfill. Therefore they are doing the world an environmental justice by making “waste” into fashion.

Not really. What most people don't know is that there is a difference between deadstock and available stock.

What is available stock fabric?

Available stock fabric is a fabric that a factory overproduces because they know that it will eventually sell. An example of stock fabrics that most factories and mills keep a ton of on hand is plain knit jersey fabric for t-shirts. They produce a lot because they know that they know there will always be a customer for t-shirts and the fabric, although it does not have a buyer now, will be purchased by someone very soon.

myth debunked – what’s really happening…

Dying, printing, knitting, and weaving, require huge, complex machines. Some ranges can take up entire city blocks, and take multiple people to operate. It takes a lot of manpower to turn off the machines, clean them, set them up for the next fabric, and then run a new fabric. It is cheaper for mills to produce extra of a fabric that they plan to sell at a discount than to shut the machines off after the order is fulfilled. 

This means that in their basic costing, mills plan to sell x percent at full price and y percent at a discounted "deadstock" price. At no point are they calculating a percent going to the landfill. Remember mills are in the business of making money, not wasting it.

deadstock market places are just a fancy way of saying, jobber

If the mills can't sell the fabric then they will pass it onto a jobber. What is a fabric jobber? A fabric jobber takes fabric from all over a country, or sometimes even the world, and re-sells it for a premium (higher than what you would pay a fabric mill directly for it).

Jobbers have existed since the industrial revolution when machines instead of people started making textiles. But, like everything else in fashion they are now being greenwashed.

The most famous of jobbers is probably Mood, based in NYC, and prominently featured on Project Runway, make it work people. I wouldn't call jobbers eco-friendly, they are just another cog in the fashion supply chain. Again, fashion is a business, that makes money. The last thing that anyone would want is to lose money by sending fabric to a landfill. It would sit in storage for years before that happened. 

are deadstock clothing brands unethical?

Available stock options are a great model for mills, it helps them to run efficiently. But, it is not an ethical model for a clothing brand that markets itself as eco-friendly – it’s taking advantage of consumers' lack of manufacturing knowledge.

Problems with available stock fabrics 

By buying available stock fashion you are buying into the concept of overproduction. And remember not to let those greenwashers fool you. Most of the deadstock that is being sold is really just available, purposely over produced yardage.

Western brands aren't saving anything

A big part of factories' willingness to overproduce is growing local markets. Rest assured that this fabric overproduced was never intended to end up in a landfill, it most likely would end up making lower price clothing for a third world economy.

"Western markets simply don’t matter as much as they used to. India produces twice as much clothing for its own consumers as it does for us. Fifty-six percent of the clothing produced in China is for the Chinese market. Both of those numbers are only going to grow." - Michael Hobbes for The Huffington Post

Problems with deadstock fabric

If a brand is buying true deadstock. The kind that by definition is damaged in some way that makes the original brand that ordered it not want it, then you as a consumer are actually buying a lower quality product.

When the fabric gets rejected by a brand, it happens for a reason. Maybe that fabric is not passing strength testing so holes form. Or, maybe in the case of waterproof fabric, the finish is not performing so a product made with it won't protect you from the rain. Maybe it didn't pass chemical testing and has too much formaldehyde or another toxic chemical in it still. There are hundreds of reasons why a fabric could have been rejected. And mills do not have to disclose this at the time of purchase.

The industries biggest problem, Lack of transparency

Deadstock has become a loophole for brands like Reformation which allows them to use non-eco-friendly fabrics like polyester. Reformation claims that using already produced polyester is better than it going to a landfill. But, as I already proved, it was never actually going to be wasted. 

But, there is a second problem with the deadstock fabric being associated with the sustainability model. And, that is transparency.

In an article on Sourcing Journal, one of the only things that me and The Queen of Raw could agree on is that there is no real way of knowing if a fabric is a true deadstock, or a factory is just calling it that to sell it to eco-driven brands making them feel good about buying cheap polyester that was dyed with cancer-causing dyes and finishes.

If you don't have a subscription to Sourcing Journal, it's a great industry publication and if you sign up for an account they let you read a few articles a month free. Here is a little preview of some of the stuff we got into in the article I was featured in.

“We shouldn’t be burning textiles or garments or getting rid of them in any way but these markets are making it too easy to overproduce, have the benefits of economies of scale and then get rid of [these fabrics],” she explained.

twice the price for half the quality

If you are ok with this kind of environmental b.s. think about this - available and dead fabric is sold for a heavy discount so mills can get rid of it, fashion companies then mark up the price under the “eco” or "vintage" label so they are doubly inflating their margins, and you the consumer are paying twice as much for a product that is half the quality.

fabric in indian mill

I literally walked through warehouse after warehouse of fabric, but, remember... there is a plan for all this

what are better options to dead stock fabric?

  • if you care about keeping fabric out of landfills, then don’t buy as much - the less clothing you buy the less you will throw away, and the less that will end up in a landfill
  • buy second hand - one man's waste is another's treasure, give new life to a pre owned garment
  • buy directly from small artisans - who make in small batches so there is no waste
  • look for vintage deadstock. There are so many cool people on Instagram and Etsy that take old vintage clothing and re-sew it into modern silhouettes. Try shopping from them.

deadstock for small brands - the pros

I don't want to leave you with all the negatives about deadstock fabric. There are always positives.

Deadstock is a great option for brands just starting out. Because the fabric is already made, there are no minimums. This makes it easy for designers that are small and self-funded to buy a few yards, and not have to invest capital into fabric they may not need. 

and, the craziest deadstock I ever saw...

melanie disalvo in jaipur with deadstock fabric

but first, let me take a selfie - with all of this block printed deadstock fabric

Did you know that there are some US importers that actually sell THIS VERY FABRIC as "vintage"? One meter costs me about 300 rupees (less than $5), and I have seen it sold in NYC for over $500! Buyer beware! And, check this out if you want to learn more about fake vintage

Lesson recap...

deadstock fabric pros and cons infographic

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  • Great article, thank you.

    Vogue Xchange
  • I couldn’t agree more with you when you say it’s better not to buy the garment in the first place. Maybe if we all made that change to shop more mindfully, companies would see there’s less demand and therefore would produce less. But that’s just wishful thinking! Thanks for all the info on dead stock

  • Hi Nancy – definitely, you just need to hunt around. Deadstock fabric shopping is a lot like shopping vintage, you aren’t guaranteed to always find what you need at that moment, but when you see something you like you should grab it right away!


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