How eco-friendly is deadstock fabric?

Deadstock Fabric is just one of these things that no one really knew about up until recently. Now, it seems to be the new thing and a lot of brands and stores pride themselves as being sustainable because they use deadstock fabric.


But how sustainable is deadstock fabric in reality?


Maybe we should start by explaining the term deadstock fabric. Deadstock refers to stock that hasn’t been able to sell. Sometimes this is due to small damages, a company ordered too much or rejected the fabric. The opposite of deadstock is called available stock.

Most people think deadstock fabric would potentially end up in landfill and rather jump to the rescue and do the environment justice by turning “waste” into a desirable eco-friendly product. The train of thought is not wrong.

But what most people unfortunately don’t know is that most production mills intentionally overproduce. This is simply owed to the fact that they know they will sell an x amount as available stock for full price and y amount for a discounted price. Why? Because for production mills it’s still more profitable to overproduce and sell cheaper then to actually turn off their machines. At no point in time did the mills actually intend for ‘deadstock’ to go to landfill, they’re in the business to make money, not wasting it.

By buying deadstock fabric we also buy into the concept of overproduction. Which is the opposite of what people were trying to achieve by genuinely wanting to save fabric from going to landfill. Available stock options are a much more sustainable model for mills to run efficiently and actually only produce what is needed. 


Is deadstock fabric unethical?


Unfortunately, yes on several levels!

First, there is no real way of knowing if it is actually deadstock or not. There is a high chance of greenwashing. A factory could just call it ‘deadstock’ to sell it to eco-driven brands making them feel good about buying cheap stock.
Second, the concept of deadstock is simply taking advantage of consumers' lack of manufacturing knowledge. It helps brands to market themselves as eco-friendly, convincing consumers to pay a higher price for a product that is half the quality. If you think about it, mills sell ‘deadstock’ for a discounted price but still make a profit. Which is an indicator for low quality, unethical working conditions and toxic dyes and finishes.

However, there are cases where fabric is indeed deadstock, the question that we should all ask ourselves is why? It could be that a company ordered it but rejected the fabric. And there is usually a reason. It could be that the product didn’t pass certain quality tests, such as strength or durability. This might be something you can live with and that is totally fine. In other cases, however it could be that the fabric didn’t pass the chemical testing and shows too much formaldehyde or other toxic chemicals, which is more concerning. There could be hundreds of different reasons and mills do not have to disclose any information when selling their deadstock.

We don’t want to end this article all negative. There are also some positive aspects to deadstock fabric.
It is a great option for small brands that are just starting out. It makes it easier for designers to purchase a few metres with no Minimum Order Quantities (MOQs) so they don’t have to invest capital into fabric they may not need.

There are cases where buying deadstock fabric actually does the environment justice by saving it from going to waste – just be aware that there are a lot of hidden aspects. If you want to be certain, go through the extra effort and ask a few questions before you purchase. Find out where it comes from and why it is deadstock, that might already give you a good indication if you want to purchase this fabric or rather get something else.


Better options to deadstock fabric:

  • Pre-loved: There are so many little treasures out there. You will most likely not find exactly what you are after so don’t have overly specific expectations, but you can find amazing fabric leftovers at second hand shops. Also, you can use sheets or curtains to make garments.
  • Small Brands: Buy from small shops that get their fabrics in small batches specifically produced for them, who can guarantee ethical and eco-friendly production. If you are unsure send them an email and ask questions, that will give you a good indication about their transparency.
  • Local Artisans: There are so many incredible people on Etsy or Instagram that hand-dye or hand-print fabric.
  • Swap: Have a chat to your sewing community and see if you can get a few people together for a swapping session. Someone’s long forgotten left over’s might be your new treasure.

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