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11 Mar

What Is Deadstock Fabric and Is It Sustainable?

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Leftover fabric or “deadstock” is often claimed as a sustainable alternative to virgin materials in the fashion industry and beyond, but it may not be the quick fix to the bigger waste problem we believe it to be.

An industry rife with overproduction and waste

Fabric waste is a massive problem in the fashion industry, with mountains of clothes being sent to landfills or burned every year. And shockingly, it’s been reported that less than 1% of the material used to produce clothing is recycled into new clothing. Something going on alongside the overproduction of apparel—we’re talking up to 100 billion new garments produced each year, as some research suggests—is the surplus of leftover or “deadstock” fabric at production mills, which some brands are now buying and incorporating into their designs in a bid to be more sustainable. But here’s where it gets murky on the sustainability front—while using up fabric that might otherwise be treated as waste is certainly a good thing, the very existence of deadstock fabric can be attributed to the damaging fast fashion business model, where overproduction is par for the course. And despite claims to the contrary, fabric is often overproduced on purpose because factories know it will be sold. This means it was never really going to end up in the trash and isn’t so “dead” after all. So, let’s take a closer look at the sustainability of using leftover or deadstock fabric and meet some brands who are doing it the right way.

What is deadstock fabric?

Deadstock is known by a few names, with “overstock”, “surplus fabric”, and “remnant” being the most common. Basically, it’s any leftover fabric that can’t be used for its original purpose or order fulfilment anymore, so the sustainability of the fabric itself comes down to what it is, from viscose to cotton and beyond. It might come from brands who ordered too much fabric, from mills producing incorrect colours or damaged or flawed fabric, or from cancelled orders. But if it’s just going to be thrown away, using it up is the best option, right? Let’s take a closer look.

Is using deadstock fabric a sustainable option?

When independent designers use deadstock, their intentions are to generally address the waste problem in fashion. That’s noble and worthy of our support. Deadstock can often be a more sustainable option than virgin materials, but the answer to the question of whether it’s sustainable across the board isn’t a simple yes or no. In fact, the very existence of deadstock is a symptom of a much deeper-rooted problem in fashion.

While this “waste” fabric is undoubtedly better off in the hands of a small designer who is starting out and needs to access cheaper material, there are growing concerns that mills are intentionally overproducing since they know the excess will be purchased anyway. This purposeful creation of “waste” perpetuates the cycle of overproduction and overconsumption and is something to be wary of when making purchases. Transparency is key here, but currently, in most places there is no legal requirement for mills to disclose why they rejected the fabric in the first place—which leaves both brands and shoppers in the dark. In some cases, this might mean shoppers are paying twice as much for a “zero waste” design that is made from fabric that is half the quality it should be when charging a premium, meaning it might end up in landfill sooner than later.

But that’s not to say deadstock is always a wolf in sheep’s clothing. In our current system and until the issue is addressed at an industry level, supporting otherwise ethical brands that use quality leftover fabric in their designs is a good option. That is, as long as they implement other meaningful waste-reduction and climate change-fighting strategies into their business, and don’t attribute the use of deadstock as their leading sustainability initiative. If they do, chances are there’s a bit of greenwashing going on—intentionally or not.

How Good On You rates deadstock

When we chatted to our Head of Ratings, Kristian Hardiman, about recycled fabric in our Ultimate Guide to Recycled Clothing Materials, he mentioned that while we currently reward brands for using deadstock fabric in our ratings system, “in an ideal, more circular world, there would not be any deadstock material, and waste would be minimised, with more value placed on the material.” By the same token, we now award brands that provide circularity training to designers, which includes minimising or avoiding waste fabric, or “designing out the waste”. The reality is too much virgin material is produced when there is already more than enough in the world, but until our production and recycling systems improve, your best bet as ever is to:

  1. Use what you have
  2. Go for second hand
  3. Purchase high-quality products from ethical brands using lower-impact materials (recycled or not)
  4. Take care of your garments and use them for as long as possible
  5. Dispose of them thoughtfully

So, while deadstock fabric will hopefully become obsolete in future as we move towards a more circular fashion industry, right now, using it up is our best option. Below are some “Good” and “Great” rated brands using deadstock or leftover fabric in their designs that are worth your support.

17 sustainable brands using leftover or deadstock fabric in their garments, products or packaging

EllA fashion

Rated: Good
woman wearing ella fashion dress

Rated ‘Good’, EllA creates considered, quality garments for women, proudly manufactured in Australia. With clean designs cut to ride with the body, EllA focuses on transeasonal garments for endless wear.

See the rating.

Shop EllA fashion.

All The Wild Roses

Rated: Good

All The Wild Roses offers free-spirited fashion for the dreamers and change-makers. This Australian brand uses up to 50% deadstock fabric to create high quality and long-lasting products.

Find most items in sizes XS-2XL.

See the rating.

Shop All The Wild Roses.

Christy Dawn

Rated: Great

Christy Dawn is a minimalist showroom for vintage-inspired women's clothing and footwear, locally made with surplus fabric. The US brand rates "Great", making it a fabulous option for your wardrobe.

Find the clothes in standard sizes XS-XL, or shop the Extended and Petite collections.

See the rating.

Shop Christy Dawn.

Elvis & Kresse

Rated: Good
orange elvis and kresse bag

Elvis & Kresse upcycles reclaimed materials into more sustainable luxury lifestyle accessories. The collection is handmade and 50% of profits are donated to charities.

See the rating.

Shop Elvis & Kresse.

Whimsy + Row

Rated: Good

Whimsy + Row is a US-based lifestyle brand born out of a love for quality goods and responsible practices. Since 2014, its mission has been to provide ease and elegance for the modern woman. Whimsy + Row utilises deadstock fabric, and by limiting each garment to short runs, the brand also reduces packaging waste and takes care of precious water resources.

Find most products in XS-XL, with an extended sizing range up to 3XL.

See the rating.

Shop Whimsy + Row.

Shop Whimsy + Row @ Earthkind.

The R Collective

Rated: Great

The R Collective's womenswear collections are made by reusing rescued excess materials from leading luxury brands and reputable manufacturers. The brand uses a high-proportion of lower-impact materials, which limits the amount of chemicals, water, and wastewater used in production. It also ensures the payment of a living wage in its supply chain.

The garments are typically offered in two sizes: XS-S and M-L.

See the rating.

Shop The R Collective.


Rated: Good

Altar is a US-based boutique that specialises in alternative and custom fashion, apothecary, and gifts. The brand celebrates independent manufacturers and artists from across North America, with a focus on the stories that are woven into their work. Its clothing brand, Altar Houseline, is proudly made in America using deadstock materials.

Find most of Altar Houseline's items in sizes S-6XL.

See the rating.

Shop Altar.

BEEN London

Rated: Good
People wearing a yellow shoulder bag and large, dark tote by BEEN London.

BEEN London is a London-based brand turning waste into timeless accessories you’d want to use every day. All their products are made of materials that have been something else in a previous life, including recycled leather offcuts and plastic bottles.

See the rating.

Shop BEEN London.

Shop BEEN London @ Cerqular.


Rated: Good

Pantee is a women's underwear brand based in the UK with a focus on comfort. The brand incorporates a high proportion of lower-impact materials including recycled materials, and its limited production run minimises textile waste.

Find bras and undies in sizes XS-3XL.

See the rating.

Shop Pantee.

Citizen Wolf

Rated: Good

Citizen Wolf uses revolutionary technology to give you high quality custom-fit t-shirts that it guarantees will be the best you’ve ever worn. After capturing your customisations, the brand handmakes each tee in Sydney using certified lower-impact fabrics like cotton, hemp, and Merino wool milled in Melbourne.

See the rating.

Shop Citizen Wolf.


Rated: Good
sustainable navy jumpsuit by Naz

Näz is a Portuguese fashion brand that aims to make fashion look good, not only on you, but on the planet too. It uses a high proportion of lower-impact materials including GOTS certified organic cotton, and traces most of its supply chain.

Most garments available in sizes S-L.

See the rating.

Shop Näz.


Rated: Great
Someone wearing a white collared shirt, a black jumpsuit, and cardigan by Dorsu.

Based in Cambodia, Dorsu creates everyday basics and key signature favourites that form the core of any conscious wardrobe.

You can find the full range in XS-XL.

See the rating.

Shop Dorsu.

Shop Dorsu @ Wearwell.


Rated: Good

Stunning designs, beautifully made, to the highest standards—Kalaurie is one of those labels that gives you a rush of excitement when you first find it. This is a Melbourne, Australia brand that makes capsule collections, with an emphasis on signature shirt tailoring. There are many reasons to love Kalaurie, and it rates highly in all three categories.

The pieces are available in 2XS-2XL.

See the rating.

Shop Kalaurie.

The Social Outfit

Rated: Good

Accredited by Ethical Clothing Australia, the Social Outfit has a social mission to employ and train workers from refugee and new migrant communities. You can be confident your purchase is directly contributing to a better life for minorities who need it most. Each piece tells an amazing human story, as the team taps into the creativity and diversity of these amazing people and collaborates with them to create new designs each season.

Find styles in 2XS-3XL.

See the rating.

Shop the Social Outfit.

Dressarte Paris

Rated: Good
custom sustainable design studio, Dressarte Paris.

Dressarte Paris is a custom-made clothing label that curates unique pieces for a worldwide clientele. It sources luxurious surplus and lower-impact fabrics to create a wonderfully chic, more sustainable wardrobe.

Its products are made-to-order, and you can choose from existing sizes or enter in your own measurements for a custom order that not only minimises textile waste but celebrates all sizes.

See the rating.

Shop Dressarte Paris.


Rated: Good
womena wearing red sustainable taiyo scarf

Taiyo is a philosophy-first womenswear brand dropping one look at a time. The brand uses a high proportion of lower-impact materials including recycled materials and manufactures locally to reduce its carbon footprint.

See the rating.

Shop Taiyo.

Parker Clay

Rated: Good
styled image of person holding Acacia woven bag from the Woven Collection by Parker Clay

Parker Clay is an American based brand looking to create a future without exploitation by bettering lives and communities in Ethiopia. Their Zero Waste Collection utilises leather scraps and cuttings from other styles, turning a handful of “useless” scraps into a cohesive, functional, and downright beautiful accessory.

See the rating.

Shop Parker Clay.

Editor's note

Feature image via Unsplash, all other images via brands mentioned. Good On You publishes the world’s most comprehensive ratings of fashion brands’ impact on people, the planet, and animals. Use our directory to search thousands of rated brands.

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