How sustainable is deadstock fabric?
You’ve heard this term batted around the ethical fashion space, and you’ve read it in the descriptions of the designs of your favourite sustainable Aussie label. But what is ‘deadstock’? Why does it seem to be considered sustainable? Is it a type of fabric? It sounds grim. Does it have anything to do with funeral homes? We get it, you’re dying to know. So we’re here to answer all your questions. Dead set.
What is deadstock, and how is deadstock fabric made?
We’ll answer the first question first, because it’ll help us answer the second. Deadstock is any product that a brand cannot or will not use or sell anymore. When tiny sunglasses came back in, before they had trickled down into shopping centres, this author purchased deadstock sunglasses from the 90s that fell out of favour in the Paris Hilton bug-eye era. Back in the day, too many tiny sunglasses were manufactured, and big sunglasses came into fashion. There wasn’t enough purchasing demand for the small ones anymore, and so there were heaps of leftovers that ended up as ‘deadstock’.
With deadstock fabric it’s a little different. Labels will create something called ‘samples’ to decide what designs will make up their collections in the following seasons and to take around to any resellers they may choose to wholesale to. They are examples of what the finished product will look like. There will always be a little fabric left over from the creation of the sample clothing, and this usually isn’t used for the main collection. This could be because the product doesn’t make it into the collection, because there’s not quite enough fabric to lay over the length of the cutting table when it goes into production, or because it’s from a different dye lot (fabric that was dyed all at once, ensuring uniformity of colour across a collection). This is the first area you might encounter deadstock.
Once the buyers have confirmed the orders they’ll place with a brand, or the brand has decided for themselves how much of a product they think they’ll sell, they’ll buy enough fabric to make those garments. One of the first stages of the manufacturing process is taking that fabric to the cutters.
Despite what you may have heard, if you’re looking to come out of a clothes-making process with minimal offcuts, making them all in one go (as opposed to made-to-order) is best for fabric-economy. This is because cutters are amazing at fitting all the pattern pieces together like Tetris on a cutting table. You might squeeze a size six piece between a size twelve and a size sixteen, for example. At the end of the day, you could end up with less than a handful of fabric offcuts. But there will still often be a complete roll of fabric (or more) leftover, because it’s better for a brand to overestimate rather than underestimate how much they may need. In a made-to-order scenario, you are less likely to have entire deadstock garments that can’t be sold, but you may have lots of inconveniently sized offcuts that are tricky to reuse.
Although a brand may have an entire roll or more of fabric leftover from a run, the cost-benefit of making more garments than they think they may sell means they choose not to pay to have the garments cut & sewn. This is the second way deadstock can be created. Finally, brands will sometimes purchase additional material in case an item sells particularly well and they need to make up more. They may not end up selling enough to make more, or buyers may not place repeat orders. Yet more deadstock.
For the last two reasons, you might be wondering why they don’t just save the leftover rolls and use them for new designs at some future point. But even if there were enough rolls leftover to create a run of new garments, a brand usually wants one season to be significantly differentiated from the last, which means changing up textiles.
As you see, there isn’t one answer for how deadstock is made. If it’s a viscose, it will be made the way viscose is made. If it’s cotton, ditto. We have a whole range of articles on fabrics about how fabrics are made, but ultimately, deadstock is just any fabric that a brand had leftover and then decided it couldn’t use anymore.
Where did deadstock come from?
This is an interesting question. The word itself- the etymology – is pretty straightforward. The rag trade is full of literal, self-explanatory terms. Seam rippers – a tool that rips seams. Cutting table – a table you cut fabric on. Maker uppers (yes, seriously) – the people you work with to sew the garment pieces into the finished product. This is then shortened to ‘makers’. Then there’s the term ‘rag trade’ itself. They trade in rags.
Deadstock is just stock that wasn’t or couldn’t be used or sold, and so it was going to go to waste. The stock was, for all intents and purposes, ‘dead’. Like we mentioned earlier, it doesn’t only apply to fabric.
If you mean, literally, where did the stock originate – it can come from anywhere! But remember that it’s always the leftovers – the things that couldn’t sell or that a brand decided for its image not to continue to try to sell at increasingly discounted prices. Or, in the case of fabric, not to use for a future collection because the brand deemed it ‘last season’.
Are end-of-roll and deadstock fabrics the same?
They can be. Imagine many layers of fabric laid out on a huge cutting table, sandwiched between paper, ready to be precision cut with machines. Let’s say the table was ten metres long. You have a 555-metre roll of fabric. You can only overlay the table fifty-five times all the way. There will be five metres left over. That’s end-of-roll. End-of-roll tends to exist in much smaller quantities and is more suitable for home sewers or small sustainable labels to buy to make individual custom pieces with. End-of-roll can be deadstock, but it could also be current season. In the classic definition, if something is current season it’s not deadstock. Language is organic, though, so remember that if a small label you know is using end-of-roll and calling it deadstock even though it’s current season, that’s okay. Either way, they’re turning waste into something beautiful.
Is deadstock an ethical fabric?
We think it is! Any time there is something that could otherwise go to waste being used, that’s a good thing for the planet! It means we’re not putting money into using more resources to make new things. Ideally, the way major brands steward their resources would dramatically change, but while we wait for that to happen, there’s no harm in putting their waste to good use!
Is deadstock a sustainable fabric?
Like we just mentioned, using a product that already exists removes all the burden of emissions, environmental degradation & resource wastage that comes from purchasing new. Overall, it’s a great option. But if it was up to us, we’d choose (as often as possible) fibres that naturally break down in soil. Synthetic fibres will still cause micro-shedding in your washing machine and out-and-about in the world, and they’ll still need to be disposed of at the tip one day. So even though you remove the beginning-stage sustainability concerns, you do have middle stage and end-of-life impacts to consider. But if you can find cotton, cellulosic, hemp, wool (or other animal-based) fabrics in deadstock form, we don’t think there are many more sustainable options than that!
Where can I buy deadstock fabric?
Depends on who you are and what your goal is! For sustainable brands, we’d suggest contacting the big fashion labels directly and offering to buy their deadstock. There are usually discounts for bigger purchases. But you won’t be able to buy small amounts this way, and often deadstock is found internationally, because so many labels make offshore. So, if you’re a home sewer and you just want three metres of something, we’d suggest checking out fabric resellers in your area. Maybe call around and see who’s purchasing deadstock. In Sydney, you could try Remnant Warehouse or The Fabric Store.
So, there you have it! The only grim thing about deadstock is the possibility it won’t get used. All the more reason to support some of our fave labels that utilise deadstock, like Lois Hazel. Or, hit up your mum and ask for sewing lessons, and create a masterpiece out of deadstock for yourself! We’d be dead keen for you to tag us in photos of you in your beautiful deadstock pieces *wink*.