18/05/17 Deadstock fabric: how sustainable is it?

Most of us are now well aware of the textile industry’s environmental and social footprint, being one of the most chemically dependent industries on earth and the number two polluter of clean water. With all that comes huge amounts of waste, most notably water, but also textile waste – otherwise known as deadstock fabric.

Recently though, more and more brands are using this waste to their advantage. And, why is it so accessible? Put simply, because there’s so much of it.

Whether it be fabric factories, textile mills or even the big designer houses, they are all responsible for producing huge amounts of leftover fabric. Much of it being pre-consumer i.e. never been worn, it’s often discarded after a production run due to a number of reasons, from the fabric dyed the wrong colour or having the wrong finish to surplus fabric generated by over-buying. This happens when big brands buy up thousands of yards of fabric for a typical production run of one style but they have over-forecasted or anticipated larger than reality sales volumes. Either way, this ends in waste and if the fabrics go unsold for sometime, a last resort for many mills and factories can be to destroy or send the waste fabrics to landfill.    

There is an alternative, however. While this leftover fabric will never be snapped up by the larger brands due to it being inherently limited in quantity, this actually makes it more attractive to smaller labels. With an opportunity to create small, limited edition collections from deadstock, this can raise the exclusivity bar as this fabric is a one-off and can’t be repeated.

Most notably, cool-girl label Reformation is vocal in their support of deadstock fabric, as well as sustainable materials and repurposed vintage clothing. They note that it can sometimes be challenging to work with since unlike newly created textiles, you never really know what you’re getting with deadstock but it has the benefit of no new fabrics being made. 

Another is New York label Eckhaus Latta, whose gender-blending, avant-garde aesthetics make use of repurposed materials, which lends to the look of the garments and has become the bedrock to the brand, with recycled and deadstock fabrics making up a large percentage of their collections. The duo puts it down to being resourceful more than anything, as well as the excitement that comes from what can be created from deadstock.

Not only is it unused textiles rolls but leftover pattern cuts from the normal pattern cutting process, which accounts for an average 15% of fabric waste. Thankfully there are brands out there working hard to create zero waste garments but until this becomes the rule and not the exception, off-cuts can provide a rich source of textiles to be utilised by fashion designers.

It goes without saying that fabric waste should never be an accepted byproduct of the apparel lifecycle, whether it’s at the beginning or at the end. But, until fabric waste becomes an industry-wide don’t, support for designers and labels championing the use of deadstock fabrics should be heralded.

With customer demand for environmentally responsible clothing growing, deadstock is becoming an increasingly appealing option for many and if you combine it with other sustainable practices such as zero-waste pattern cutting, it can significantly reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfill and on the cutting room floor. Let’s cheers to that!

Shop Reformation.