Sustainable Dictionary: Deadstock Fabrics

Deadstock fabric is new marketing term with an old concept: excess fabrics that are made by large mills move into a secondary market. That’s it. It gets more complicated when you add in the marketing by “sustainable” fashion brands, and the greenwashing that’s become prevalent in the environmentally conscious clothing industry. 

Say Zara wants to create a fabric to use in a number of designs in an upcoming line. The mill they’ve contracted can have a couple of things go wrong, like overproduction or producing a poor quality fabric. If it’s really low quality the fabric will be burned; it’ll never end up in a secondary market because no one can create with it. The overproduced product will go to a jobber, who sells directly to smaller companies and individuals. (If you’ve ever watched Project Runway, Mood in NY is a famous example.) Designers will then buy the seconds, which is just a term for any fabric that they haven’t expressly commissioned.

Brands like Reformation and Christy Dawn argue that their use of deadstock fabrics/seconds is saving it from destruction; they’re creating with something that would be normally thrown away. Only that’s not true, because they’ve bought it from this jobber who would have sold it to someone else rather than send it to a landfill. Fabric isn’t groceries, it doesn’t have an expiration date. Unsold fabrics are often moved to a different country to fetch a higher price in a less saturated market, rather than being tossed out. The only environmentally positive impact from these brands buying deadstock is that they’re not having more fabric created. It doesn’t guarantee that the fabric is high quality, or free from toxic chemicals, or made in factories with good working conditions. (It does often mean that the fabric is much cheaper, however.) But do we need more fabric? 

Designers using deadstock often trot out figures about how much textiles are being sent to landfills, and how they’re saving it from destruction. Like how in 2015 the US generated 16 million tons of textile waste, and only 15% of it was recycled. That’s horrifying. But according to the EPA, the main source of all this waste is discarded clothing. The real secondary market for fabrics should be remaking items from clothing items already produced (post consumer recycling), not creating more items that could contribute to that gigantic and terrifying figure. Additionally, if any of the deadstock fabric is low quality, or too trendy, or if the garment construction is low quality, that item is going to be thrown out just as fast as something from Zara or another fast fashion brand. The only real way to keep fabrics out of landfills is what we already know: buy rarely and of high quality, mend and repair items instead of tossing them, and find new ways to reuse items that have already been constructed. We already have a vast overproduction problem in fashion. Using deadstock fabric is just disguising the problem instead of solving it.