Fabric waste is a massive problem in the fashion industry, with mountains of clothes being sent to landfills or burned every year. And shockingly, less than 1% of the material used to produce clothing is recycled into new clothing. Something going on alongside the massive overproduction of apparel—we’re talking 100 billion new garments produced each year—is the surplus of leftover or “deadstock” fabric at production mills, which some brands are now buying and incorporating into their designs. 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 chances are it was never going to be thrown away in the first place! So, let’s take a look at the sustainability of using leftover fabric and meet some brands who are doing it the right way.
Is using deadstock fabric a sustainable option?
The short answer is: yes and no.
Deadstock is known by a few names, with “overstock”, “surplus fabric”, and “remnant” being the most common. It might come from other brands who ordered too much fabric, from mills producing incorrect colours or damaged or flawed fabric, or from cancelled orders.
And 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 over-producing 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.
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 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!
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.” 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:
- Use what you have
- Go for second hand
- Purchase high-quality products from ethical brands using eco-friendly materials (recycled or not)
- Take care of your garments and use them for as long as possible
- 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.