Deadstock Fabric is NOT as Sustainable as You Think
Recently, there has been a lot of hype around using deadstock fabric as a more sustainable solution textile option in garment production. But what are you actually buying? Is using deadstock fabric as eco-friendly as we have all been led to believe? Spoiler – Like most things in fashion and otherwise, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
BUT, BEFORE WE GET STARTED
Have you heard about the super secret document that everyone in the fashion industry uses, but no one is talking about? Probably not. That is because you can't find it on Google or Instagram (believe me, I've tried).
It's a form I have used for over 13 years at every job I have ever had. Literally everyone from brands to fabric suppliers use it, but you can't find it anywhere publicly.
The best part? It can cut your sourcing time in half, and save you tons of money in product development! This is the kind of info consultants charge the big bucks for. And, I'm giving it away for free until the end of the month.
So, get ready to make fashion startup life a whole lot easier, and GRAB YOUR FREE DOWNLOAD OF THE NOT-SO-SECRET SOURCING DOC HERE
IN THIS ARTICLE:
- What is deadstock fabric?
- How a fabric becomes deadstock
- What happens to deadstock fabrics?
- Deadstock fabric’s sustainability claims
- Stock vs Deadstock fabric
- Is deadstock fabric greenwashing?
- The benefits of fashion startups using deadstock fabrics
- Alternatives to deadstock
- Personal story: that time I spotted fake deadstock
- Deadstock resources and where to buy deadstock fabrics
- United States
- Australia/New Zealand
WHAT IS DEADSTOCK FABRIC?
image from FABCYCLE
Deadstock refers to old fabric that hasn’t been able to sell. The lack of sales could be for a variety of reasons. Maybe there was some damage. Maybe the company who purchased the fabric ordered too much and no longer needs it. Or maybe the scraps are from factories’ cutting room floors and are being sewn together and made into something new, like Zero Waste Daniel.
HOW A FABRIC BECOMES DEADSTOCK
Deadstock fabric is waste. Meaning, a fabric can’t be produce as deadstock, it can only become deadstock. Here are two ways a fabric can become deadtock.
A common cost-saving manufacturing technique for companies is to use as much of the same fabric as possible over and over again. Smaller brands with limited cash flow tend to buy their fabric every season. But, big brands will somtimes buy a years worth of fabric at one time - using some now and saving the rest for future seasons.
Brands place these big bulk orders for 2 reasons.
The first is that these big brands are often betting on future prices going up (hello, inflation). If a company buys a year's worth of fabric now and then the prices go up in six months, this could save the company thousands, if not millions, of dollars.
The second reason a brand might order so much fabric is that the biggerthe order, the more the savings. For example, and order of 1,000 meters might cost $5 per meter, but if they order 10,000 meters the price might drop down to $4.50.
But sometimes brands overpredict how much fabric they need, and can’t accept their full order. They have too much, and need to get rid of some. In this case stock fabric could become deadstock.
Brands rejecting fabric can happen for lots of different reasons.
The best quality deadstock will be fabric that was rejected because it was delivered late. In some brand/supplier contracts, it is negotiated that if a fabric order is delivered even one day late, the brand has the right to cancel. When this happens, the mill is stuck with a huge order of fabric that they didn’t plan for and might not know what to do with. This fabric becomes true deadstock and is often sold at a discount so that the mill can quickly recoup costs associated with manufacturing the fabric.
Fabrics can also be rejected for damages. Some damages are quality issues and some are not.
Did you know that there are hundreds of fabric tests? These tests can check for anything from how much a fabric fades when exposed to pool water, to how much pressure is needed to make it rip apart, to how much microfiber is released in a home washing machine. If a bulk fabric order does not pass certain tests that were agreed to, then the entire order can be rejected by the brand.
Sometimes fabrics are rejected because of color variance. When big brands order fabric, they expect every roll of fabric in their order to match the color standard they picked out. If the colors do not match exactly, they reserve the right to reject those rolls in the order.
Fabrics that were rejected because of color issues, are generally very high quality textiles.
On the other hand, some fabrics could be full of holes, have inconsistent shrinkage properties that create wonky garments, or fall apart the first time they are worn.
Though it is rare, fabrics can even be rejected because they are dangerous. In some cases, the fabric might not pass chemical testing. Things like too much formaldehyde or another toxic chemical still being present in the fabric could be the reason it was rejected.
I know fast fashion gets a bad rap, but I can tell you this about my time in it - we were really, really serious about testing for some types of chemicals. Even the littlest bit of certain chemicals would warent a rejection.
Mills do not have to disclose their reasons for rejection at the time of purchase. If you plan to buy defective deadstock fabrics, make sure to find out exactly why the fabric was rejected and if it can still be suitable for your brand's design needs.
WHAT HAPPENS TO DEADSTOCK FABRICS?
If the mills can't sell the fabric, they will pass it on to a jobber.
What is a fabric jobber? A fabric jobber takes fabric from all over a country, or sometimes even the world, and resells it for a premium (higher than what you would pay a fabric mill directly for it). Jobbers have existed since the industrial revolution when we started using machines to make textiles rather than making them by hand. The most famous jobber is probably Mood, based in NYC, because they were featured on Project Runway; make it work, people.
Sometimes mills send real deadstock to jobbers, and sometimes they use jobbers as an additional outlet to sell their overproduction.
For a list of legit deadstock suppliers scroll down to the resource section at the bottom of this article.
IS DEADSTOCK FABRIC SUSTAINABLE?
image from Marchant & Mills
The concept of deadstock being eco friendly is kind of just repackaged supply chain systems. Like I said, Jobbers who sell excess and waste fabric have exsisted since the industrial revolution.
But, a lot of companies and designers have marketed deadstock as a conscious fashion solution that allows them to use polyester and other fabrics considered not so great for the environment in the name of sustainability.
Let me break it donw.
The theory goes, if deadstock is not rescued by conscious brands, it will end up in a landfill. So, these brands using waste, and doing the world a favor.
While using waste is, of course eco friendly. It is not the groundbreaking, pat on the back, industry-changing type of work that brands wanted to give themselves credit for.
I wouldn't call jobbers eco-friendly; they are just another cog in the fashion supply chain. Always, always, always remember that 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.
The system of jobbers reselling fabric has always existed. It’s nothing new.
The new branding of waste fabric did, however give brands an excuse to stop innovating. Deadstock has become this kind of loophole where brands can use terrible-made fabrics (chemical waterproofing, toxic finishes, and unvetted supply chains) and still call it eco.
Oh, this polyester fabric coated in carcinogens?- it’s actually very eco; we rescued it from a landfill…
I mean, come on.
Deadstock being the solution to brands' sustainability issues, is a really nice marketing pitch creating articles that almost write themselves for journalists. But the problem is – it’s not exactly true. What most people don't know, including the brands that use these materials, is that there is a difference between deadstock and available stock. And, spoiler, one of them is not as eco as the other. I’ll go over that in just one minute.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AVAILABLE STOCK FABRIC AND DEADSTOCK?
image from The Remnant Warehouse
Like I mentioned before, a common cost-saving manufacturing technique for companies is to use as much of the same fabric as possible in the hopes that prices will go up and dollars can be saved. Available stock fabric is a fabric that a factory overproduces because they know it will eventually sell.
An example of stock fabrics that most factories and mills keep a ton of on hand of is plain knit jersey fabric for t-shirts. They produce a lot because they know that there will always be a customer for t-shirts. Although the mill might not have a brand to buy the fabric right now, they know it’s a safe bet and will be purchased by someone very soon.
Here’s a recent example of this “we’ll get a customer in the future” mentality.
During the pandemic, I had a few brands reach out to me wanting to buy silk fabric deadstock. Silk is one of the most expensive fibers in the world. The brands figured that because there were so many canceled orders that were making headlines as the world shut down, mills would be desperate to sell unused silk fabric for cheap to recoup some cash. But none of the mills I work with had any interest in this because they knew if they waited a year, two, maybe even three, they would eventually get the prices they wanted.
Creating this overproduction and tying up cash in product for sometimes years is part of a mill's financial operating plan. It might sound crazy, but when you understand how fabrics are made, it makes a lot of sense from a business perspective.
Dying, printing, knitting, and weaving require huge, complex machines. These systems are so large that some can take up entire city blocks and need multiple people to operate. The most costly part of the entire fabric production system is to turn off the machines, clean them, set them up for the next fabric, and then run a new type of fabric. Meaning, it is cheaper for mills to produce extra fabric that they plan to sell in the future than to turn off the machine, wait for a new order to come in, and then run the machine again.
PROS AND CONS OF STOCK AND DEADSTOCK FABRIC
About 10 years ago, factories would sell overstock fabric for a fair price. It helped out small brands that could not meet their MOQs (Minimum Order Quantities). If they were making the fabric already for a bigger customer, they figured, why not make more and sell the extra to 10 or 20 smaller customers? It was a win-win. The factory was able to take on smaller customers and make more money than they might not have. And the brand could buy smaller quantity fabrics at a lower price typically reserved for bigger orders.
But things are different today.
While creating overstock fabric saves the supplier money, that does not mean that savings are being passed onto the brand. Now, there is a premium for deadstock fabrics just like with the vintage and second-hand market. People have become so desperate to reuse waste, that waste has actually become more expensive in some cases than brand new stuff. Talk about supply and demand.
And while technically, this overstock fabric was planned for, brands can still claim that it was already produced or that they did not create it themselves (lowering their reported carbon footprint). The fact that they can claim all of those environmental assets has created a demand that has allowed factories to raise prices.
I have seen suppliers selling small quantities of overstock (sometimes being marketed as deadstock) for up to four times the price they used to sell it for. Meaning, fabric that would normally go for about $5 per yard is now $20 because of the deadstock label.
Available stock options are a great model for mills, as 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.
IS DEADSTOCK FABRIC GREENWASHING?
image from FABSCRAP
This is the million-dollar question.
IMO, real deadtock fabric is legit. But, stock fabric, while a great option for small brands who need low MOQs (more on that in a second) is not as eco.
If you care about sustainability, you will need to get to the bottom of the legitmacy of your fabric. But unfortunately, it’s becoming harder and harder to determine if fabrics were simply overproduced, or if they are true deadstock that was produced for a brand and rejected.
Finding the truth will require digging, and asking suppliers questions. And, even if you ask them all the right things, it’s still easy for a manufacturer to lie about the origins and intent of the order.
Because of that, I recommend working with brands directly. And asking them for their leftover fabrics instead of suppliers.
ARE STOCK FABRICS PART OF THE FAST FASHION PROBLEM?
By buying available stock fashion, you are buying into the concept of overproduction.
We need to accept that in no world was this fabric every going to become waste, even though at the moment it’s extra.
Here’s the scoop.
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 would sooner be used to make lower-priced 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
So, if a forgien brand won’t buy it, someone local will. None of this was every going to become waste.
IS DEADSTOCK HURTING SUSTAINABLE FASHIONS TRACEABILITY EFFORTS?
Deadstock being associated with the sustainability model is a huge issue when it comes to transparency. Deadstock has become a loophole for brands like Reformation. Deadstock allows them to use non-eco-friendly fabrics like polyester. Reformation claims that using already-produced polyester is better than the polyester going in a landfill. But, as I already proved, it was never actually going to be wasted.
In an article in Sourcing Journal, one of the only things that me and The Queen of Raw could agree on is this: like I said, there is no real way of knowing if a fabric is true deadstock or if a factory is just calling it that to sell it to eco-driven brands to make them feel better about buying cheap polyester made with cancer-causing dyes and finishes.
(PS - 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 for 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.)
DEADSTOCK AND FASHION STARTUP BRANDS
image from NONA Source
But while hard to verify, deadstock or overstock fabrics are a great option for brands just starting out. And that is because deadstock and overstock fabrics have very low or now MOQS.
And MOQ is a minimum order quantity. And most mills will make brands order 300 or more yards. But, when they have available stock, brands can order as little as 1-5 yards.
By being able to purchase smaller amounts of fabric, brands are able to get their foot in the fashion door.
But, eventually, brands outgrow the dead stock and available stock system.
There is no way a brand can grow and scale only using deadstock fabrics. At a certain size, they will need to place their own fabric orders. IMO deadstock as a sustainable option should be reserved for startup brands as a way for them to get access to low MOQ fabrics. Fabrics that have no real plan for the future and need to be sold so mills and factories can make some cash back.
Christy Dawn is a great example of this. They rose to fame for their dedication to using deadstock fabrics. But as they have been growing, they have also been exploring other fabric options and working closely with a partner in India that has a regenerative cotton farm.
I literally walked through warehouse after warehouse of fabric, but remember... there is a plan for all this.
ALTERNATIVES TO DEADSTOCK FABRICS
Before you can become a consious brand, you need to know your values.
No garment will ever be “perfect.” But a garment might be better or worse depending on what is important to you.
- If you really care about eliminating toxins from your clothes, deadstock might not be the fashion solution for you. A lot of deadstock fabric comes from suppliers who are not focused on regulations and produce a lot of toxins.
- If what you really want to focus on is your carbon footprint, then foucsing on using local deadstock fabric from other local designers could be a really good option for you.
- I am a big believer in personal responsibility in the fashion industry. So if you care about keeping fabric out of landfills, don’t buy as much - focus on only ordering what you need, and not over ordering.
- If you want deadstock clothes, try taking it to the next level. Look for vintage deadstock. Also, there are so many cool people on Instagram and Etsy that take old vintage clothing and re-sew it into modern silhouette - they are also worth checking out.
Bottom line? Sustainability is not one-size-fits-all.
AND THE CRAZIEST FAKE DEADSTOCK I EVER SAW…
But first, let me take a selfie - with all of this block-printed deadstock fabric…
Did you know that there are some U.S. 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.
As with everything in the world of fashion, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably (read, definitely) is.
RESOURCES - WHERE TO BUY DEADSTOCK FABRIC
Here are a are few of my favrotie places to shop fabric.
WHERE TO BUY DEADSTOCK FABRIC IN THE USA
Location: Kansas, United States
Founder Liv operates a 2,600 foot deadstock fabric warehouse space filled with deadstock fabrics “we know that deadstock fabric sitting in a warehouse somewhere isn’t doing anyone any good, so we are happy to provide a secondhand shopping alternative for thoughtful makers.”
Shop Well Fibre - deadstock fabric online
Location: online, United States
Shop Well Fibre is basically a deadstock fabric auction. Every Thursday at a sneak peek of this week's new arrivals become available. Then on Friday at 10pm est the fabrics go live - for a first come first serve deadstock fabric buying experience!
Location: New York and Philadelphia, United States
Founded by Jessica Schrieber, with a professional background in waste management “ FABSCRAP was created to meet New York City’s commercial textile recycling needs. Materials that traditionally would have gone to landfill are now being properly recycled and made available for reuse.
FABSCRAP is a 501(c)3 charitable organization, though it flips the traditional non-profit model. The service fee covers operational costs and allows us to give away fabric to students, artists, local designers, and crafters for reuse. Rather than a receiving a tax receipt for the value of the donation, the service fee is tax-deductible.”
Location: Pennsylvania, United States
Online and with a physical fabric shop in Pennsylvania - “Fabric Mart specializes in closeout fashion fabrics by the yard. We have been in business for 40+ years but are still a relatively small family business with about 20 employees. We are finely tuned and that helps us keep our prices down. Call us during normal business hours and you will always be greeted by a live associate ready to help with whatever you need.”
Location: New York, United States
“Turning the world's pollution into profit.”
Queen of Raw creates software that allows for bigger brands to keep track of and then resell their waste materials.
EUROPE DEADSTOCK FABRIC SUPPLIERS
NONA Source - designer deadstock fabric
Location: Paris, France and London, UK
This is like the jackpot of deadstock fabric.
“the first online resale platform which re-values deadstock fabrics and leathers from the most exclusive French Maisons de Couture. Nona Source allows Creatives to easily access high-quality materials whilst encouraging the Creative Re-use of existing resources.”
NONA Source is partnered with LVMH group - aka the parent company of couture houses likes Louis Vuitton, Loro Piana, Fendi, Celine, Christina Dior, Marc JAcobs, and more.
Location: United Kingdom
AmoThreads is a platform where brands can sell their deadstock materials to other brands.
Location: England, UK
“Cloth for sewing.” Merchants and Mills not only provides organic and sustainable deadstock fabric options, but also other resources that would be helpful to small startup business like pattern making, and design help.
AUSTRALIA/NEW ZEALAND DEADSTOCK FABRIC SHOPS
Location: Sydney, Australia
One of the only places in Australia to find true deadstock fabrics, from wovens to knits, yarn dyed, linens, wool, and everything in between.
“Founded in 2003 by Joe Hambour, The Remnant Warehouse is not your average fabric store. With 3 generations worth of experience in fabric, Joe set out to bring gorgeous designer fabrics and trims from Australia’s elite designers to home sewers and makers at a reasonable price- bringing together style, sustainability and affordability. Mixed in are a large range of curated patchwork fabrics, notions and haberdashery items. Our store is packed to the brim with unique items that you won’t find elsewhere.”
CANADA DEADSTOCK FABRIC STORES
Location: Vancouver, Canada
“a non-profit fabric store selling donated deadstock fabric and fibre arts supplies online and in-person. We keep ‘waste’ fabric out of landfill and instead sell it to the fibre arts and slow-fashion community and anyone with an interest in sewing and in particular, sustainable sewing supplies!
We aim to make sewing approachable and affordable. Our fabric, notions and supplies are priced at up to 75% less than regular retail prices. We hold weekly in-person sales at our brick and mortar store in Vancouver and 24 hours a day via our website. We currently ship across Canada.”
Location: Vancouver, Canada
“FABCYCLE is a collection service of textile waste. We work directly with local apparel manufacturers like factories, fashion designers and schools to collect the scraps, off-cuts, deadstock and ends of rolls that are left during the apparel production process and reuse or recycle what they cannot use.
Our mission is to divert textile waste from the landfill by finding creative solutions, promoting the sustainable mindset of waste as a resource.”
DID YOUR OPINION ON DEADSTOCK FABRIC CHANGE?
Let me know in the comments!