I've been wanting to write about this for a long time. Please bear with me while I gather my thoughts on deadstock fabric as a supposedly 'sustainable' alternative in fashion. I'm going to explain why I am so careful about my use of deadstock fabrics and what you should watch out for if you're an eco-conscious shopper. From this, I want you to look at 'deadstock' as a neutral, descriptive term, as opposed to an indicator of sustainability. To decide if a brand is sustainable or not, we need to dig deeper into their values and operational practices.
deadstock fabric estimated to be from the seventies for Good Luck Buck Gemini sets
Deadstock, also known as surplus or overstock fabric, refers to unused and unsold materials that were produced for a specific purpose but never used or sold. The use of deadstock fabric has become very popular in recent years, largely due to its reputation as being ‘sustainable’, as you’re minimizing waste by using what already exists, as opposed to creating new materials. By repurposing existing materials, raw resources, such as water, energy, and land, are reduced. This helps conserve natural resources, decrease carbon emissions, and minimize the overall ecological footprint of the fashion industry. We love this.
Deadstock fabric also provides opportunities for smaller designers (like myself) to access high-quality materials at a lower cost, as they don't have to work with the large minimums offered by most manufacturers. Smaller designers, who often face financial constraints and limited access to large-scale production and sourcing networks, can create unique and sustainable designs without the high costs associated with fabric production, and without producing more fabric than they really need.
Repurposing existing materials is great in theory, but it doesn't address the underlying issues of overproduction, excessive waste and poor working conditions in the fashion industry. The cycle of overconsumption continues, because we're providing a solution for excess inventory without addressing the root causes.
Relying on deadstock fabric can mask the problem of overproduction in the fashion industry. A lot of fabric producers have quickly cottoned on to the rising trend of ‘deadstock’ fabric. In response, they are intentionally producing more fabric than they need, in order to then sell this as deadstock, which defeats the purpose of this movement all together.
When using deadstock fabric, brands have little control over the supply chain and its associated environmental and social practices. The fabric's origin, production conditions, and ethical sourcing are often uncertain, which makes it difficult to label as ‘sustainable’.
Greenwashing occurs when brands exaggerate or mislead consumers by claiming sustainability based solely on the use of deadstock fabric. Without transparent and credible certifications or verifiable information about the entire supply chain, we can’t really verify the claims. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use deadstock fabric! It just means it shouldn’t be used as the sole indicator of something being sustainable.
True sustainability means addressing systemic issues and promoting responsible production and consumption practices, as well as educating consumers on what they’re buying. As a smaller brand, I love using deadstock fabrics, especially when I find fabrics that are
- genuinely ‘old’ and leftover
- Offcuts from a known designer (ie Liberty London)
- sourced from local fabric stores
- high quality
I don't think brands should stop using deadstock by any means, but I do think we need to be wary about how we're using this term to greenwash in the fashion industry. 'Deadstock' is a neutral, descriptive term for fabric that is leftover. It’s a great way to prevent fabric waste and use what’s already in existence, but let's not pretend it's the solution to making fashion sustainable.