The fashion industry uses tons and tons of fabric every year, but not all of that fabric ends up becoming the beautiful garments that you and I wear. A huge proportion of this fabric ends up in landfills because it is either unused or damaged.
There are several different terms for this extra fabric, ranging from "overstock" to "deadstock" among others. Technically, these mean different things, but ultimately they are a sign of both overproduction and overconsumption.
Deadstock fabric is usually leftover fabric in textile mills (generally from the previous season). This fabric is sold in large quantities at a discounted rate directly by the mills, and many "sustainable" brands buy this fabric to use in their own clothing line.
Where deadstock fabric is generally found in textile mills, overstock fabric is what we call the extra fabric that has already been bought by fashion brands. Generally, this is the stock that ends up in landfills because it ends up unused and sitting in fashion houses for months, and sometimes even years until it is finally disposed of.
Deadstock fabric can arise for several reasons. It might be a result of an inaccurate demand calculation by the textile mills or be fabric that has been damaged in the production or dying process.
Which Brands Use Deadstock Fabric?
Many leading fashion brands position themselves as being "Sustainable" by sourcing and producing their garments from deadstock fabric. One of the most prominent examples of this is Reformation. They claim that up to 5% of their products are made out of deadstock fabric.
LA-based brand, Christy Dawn predominantly uses deadstock fabric for its ethical clothing collections. Similarly, UK-based fashion brand Bug Clothing only uses deadstock fabric from designer factory waste in their clothes.
Is Deadstock Fabric Really Sustainable?
A quick Google search will tell you that there are plenty of arguments against brands labeling themselves as being "sustainable", simply because they are using deadstock fabric - accusations of greenwashing abound.
While there are many pros to using deadstock fabric, like the fact that you are saving unwanted and unused fabric from ending up in a landfill, critics insinuate that this increasing demand for deadstock fabric can encourage textile mills to overproduce because the per-unit cost of production decreases as the quantity produced increases. Another thing to note is that this fabric is generally of the mass-produced variety, meaning it is made of artificial materials such as nylon and polyester which are not easily biodegradable and can take up to 200 years to break down.
It is also quite difficult to trace the source or origin of the fabric. Since these fabrics are stocked in huge quantities by outlets and chain stores, it is impossible to classify them as ethical or sustainable because we know nothing about their production lifecycle.
Without bearing all of these factors in mind, brands tend to start 'eco-friendly' collections that have been made from deadstock without considering the environmental ramifications of manufacturing clothes with new fabric (which is ultimately what it is). In the end, it is always better to upcycle vintage clothing and to use easily biodegradable fabric.
Where Can I Ethically Source Deadstock Fabric?
Although we have focused more on the cons of using deadstock fabric in your fashion line, it is possible to do your research to source from suppliers that care about the origin and environmental impacts of the fabric they produce. Some online portals and suppliers that can help you get started in this journey are listed below, and most ship worldwide!
1. Queen of Raw (Worldwide)
Queen of Raw is an online wholesalers portal where you can find high-quality fabrics which have been collected from the best factories and textile mills all over the world. They have a vast and detailed collection which means that you can find out the country of origin along with the exact materials that were used to make the fabric so that you can choose the greenest raw materials that fit your use case.
2. AmoThreads (Worldwide)
AmoThreads is a large collection of deadstock fabrics that you can buy in small quantities. You can filter by the material used, as well as seasonality, which will make it easier for you to find and buy the perfect fabric for your needs.
3. Offset Warehouse (Based in the UK)
Offset Warehouse is a wholesaler for all kinds of ethical and sustainable materials, but they also have some deadstock fabrics. They have a whole range of other materials such as those made from pineapple and banana and offer worldwide delivery.
4. Measure Fabric (Based in the USA)
Measure fabric mostly offers deadstock fabric that is only available in limited quality. They have a special focus on designer deadstock fabric which is luxury, untouched and unused fabric from well-known fashion houses and designers. These pieces were never used in production and unfortunately, discarded by the designer.
5. Blackbird Fabrics (Based in Canada)
Blackbird Fabrics is a Canada-based fabric supplier. While they focus on all kinds of fabric (both sustainable and not), they have a special section for designer deadstock fabric which periodically showcase some really beautiful pieces!
6. FabCycle (Based in Canada)
FabCycle is another Canadian supplier that works with designers and factories to collect discarded and unused fabric and prevents them from ending up in landfills. They have a huge supply of deadstock fabric ranging from fabrics made from eco-friendly materials to vegan leather and faux fur.
7. Etsy (Worldwide)
Yes, you heard that right! Etsy is a great place to buy unique deadstock fabric. Etsy sellers have a huge collection of deadstock fabric, and this can be a great choice for someone running a small business who might not have the capital to purchase the minimum order quantity required by bigger suppliers.
8. Meter Meter (Based in Denmark)
Meter Meter is an extremely abundant supplier of fabrics with a huge catalog, including designer deadstock fabric made from all kinds of high-quality materials.
9. The Fabric Store (Australia/New Zealand)
The Fabric Store is based in Australia with some shops in New Zealand (though they do ship worldwide). They offer all kinds of fabric, like locally sourced wool and linen, and also keep a small collection of deadstock.
This list of resources and suppliers should be a good starting point for you to find something that works for you based on your needs as well as location. We hope this can be a good first step for you to start thinking about starting your own ethical fashion line, and that it aids you in making good choices for your brand.