Can Deadstock Collections Help Solve Fashion’s Huge Waste Problem?

Elizabeth Bennett investigates the pros and cons of using ‘deadstock’ fabric within the fashion industry, and whether this really is a sensible planet-friendly solution to fashion’s waste problem. 

From Rixo and Reformation to House of Holland and Louis Vuitton, deadstock has entered the mainstream fashion vernacular of late. With increasing interest in sustainability, collections created from waste fabric are appearing more and more. However, much like all things ‘eco’, understanding its meaning and planet-friendly benefits is a little murkier.

“There are differing views on what ‘deadstock’ means but in the purest sense I would class it as limited quantities of material that would have been discarded or destroyed if it wasn’t recovered for use,” Charlotte Turner, head of sustainable fashion & textiles at Eco-Age, explained. “For example, dye tests, sample fabrics and end of roll remnants or left-over fabrics that are rejected for reuse because they were over-bought for a particular collection or have past season prints or branding,” she elaborated.

From a waste perspective, using deadstock fabric makes logical sense. At present, $120 billion worth of unused textiles are thrown into landfills, burned, or laid to rest in warehouses every single year. Transforming this so-called waste into new wearable pieces avoids this. “When you think about the amount of resources – or environmental capital – that goes into making those materials, it’s a colossal waste,” Turner commented.

Image credit: Farewell Frances

For independent fashion designers, using deadstock can be beneficial from both a conscious and a creative perspective. “Working with deadstock fabrics is always a bit more of a puzzle. It forces you to design with a different part of your brain when supplies aren’t endless,” New York-based Carly Scheck, the founder of Farewell Frances, a slow fashion women’s brand known for their upcycled quilt coats, said. “I think some designers think deadstock has to mean old or vintage but the truth is there is just such a huge excess of fabric from even these past five years that are no longer in circulation,” she added. 

It’s a similar story for London-based Mary Benson. She found using deadstock fabric suited her conscience and her budget when she first started making bold printed dresses. “It seemed like the most eco-friendly and affordable way to make clothes as a small brand,” she said. Each season, Benson designs around four dress styles which are made in a number of different deadstock fabrics. She buys enough of each deadstock material to make between five to ten dresses and uses the offcuts for purses, chokers and cushions. “It’s a freeing way to work. I’m not tied to the model of designing six months ahead. It’s more like the traditional method of dressmaking, creating bespoke pieces women can wear again and again,” Benson noted.

There are some challenges though, most notably with sourcing. “I like to know where I’m getting the fabric from and why it’s been rejected. I buy everything from AMO as they have good supply chain transparency. I’m always keen to find something that hasn’t just been made to sell cheap,” Benson said. 

Credit: Mary Benson
Credit: Mary Benson

This is something UK-based SupplyCompass, a production platform hopes to offer with their new partnership with US-based Queen of Raw, a deadstock marketplace. The two have partnered to create the first global deadstock library making deadstock fabrics available at scale to brands and manufacturers. With the conversation around excess fabric due to COVID-cancelled orders, now seemed like the perfect time to launch. “We’ve definitely seen a shift in mindset over the past six months, seeing sustainability being talked about as a necessity rather than a ‘nice to have’,” Flora Davidson, co-founder of SupplyCompass, commented.

As we know, changes in sourcing need to make sense beyond the environmental benefits for brands to adopt them on a large scale and for the long term. Luckily, Davidson feels using deadstock is a win-win for brands and manufacturers. “Not only does it use less resources than creating new, virgin fabrics does, but because the fabric already exists, it can be delivered faster, reduce lead-times by up to six weeks, and is also often cheaper,” she said. 

While this move towards making the most of existing fabrics comes with many positives, like any increasingly popular term it could end up being overused or used incorrectly as a form of greenwashing. This is mainly because it is sometimes hard to differentiate between whether the so-called deadstock is actual deadstock or other older available stock. “For example, if you have plain fabric in your stockroom that you have had for three years but use every season for your pockets, it’s not really deadstock,” Turner points out.

“We really need to be focusing on recovering rejected materials and adding value back to something that could otherwise end up being burned or sent to landfill,” Turner added. By doing so, we can reduce waste and wear clothes that cause less damage to the planet.