The Benefits of Deadstock & Recycled Fabric
Deadstock refers to fabric produced for a collection that was never used due to a flaw in the fabric or overproduction by the textile mill.
Recycled refers to fabric upcycled from garments that had a previous life.
Producing new items with deadstock or recycled fabrics can be extraordinarily sustainable for a couple of reasons. For one, the majority of water required for garment production is used to convert raw fiber into workable fabric and during the dye process. Upcycled textiles require very little water use unless the designer opts to re-dye this fabric for their collection. Not to mention that finished textiles repurposed for secondary collections are, by definition, secondhand. Making use of preexisting fabrics not only reduces required resources, it theoretically keeps fabric out of landfills by giving them a new life.
Is Deadstock Greenwashing?
I use the term theoretically because if you google “deadstock fabric,” you’ll see that there is some debate around the environmental efficiency of using deadstock.
One brand owner claims that most mills operating “overseas” in garment sectors like Cambodia and Bangladesh actually overproduce intentionally to appeal to different markets, which means that using something labeled deadstock from these markets is a form of greenwashing since even the apparent “overstock” was always intended to be used in garment production. But a garment industry expert interviewed for Eluxe Magazine describes a scenario in which an independent designer changed her mind about a fabric run, which left the mill responsible for selling off fabric for which they originally had a buyer. In this case, the fabric would be considered true deadstock since it was doomed to sit in a warehouse until the mill could find a buyer.
Meanwhile, my pal Whitney at Fashionista nuances the discussion by pointing out that higher end fabrics sourced by US-based brands like Reformation were probably never likely to be tossed into landfills and thus the argument that deadstock is the most sustainable option is based on a misleading narrative. That being said, it’s still a good choice for smaller scale and indie brands that want to choose a more sustainable option and don’t mind producing in limited runs.
It seems to me that, even if international mills are producing some overstock to be sold at bargain bin prices, deadstock isn’t exactly a lucrative business when compared to first-round production. Because the fabric available in this market isn’t normally traceable, you can’t just order more of it to meet demand. To me, this seems to imply that we can trust that most deadstock is a true secondhand product and not a conspiracy.
There are still ecological limitations with deadstock fabric. Since it can be difficult to get accurate information on the fabric content, companies simply can’t ensure that the fabric is naturally derived and biodegradable. And with companies that source vintage deadstock, you’re much more likely to end up with a finished product made out of microfiber-shedding polyester.
All that to say, sourcing anything at all from the secondhand market is a GREAT idea despite its limitations. When thrifting just doesn’t do it for you, turn to these brands that use deadstock or recycled fabrics for their collections.
Further clarification courtesy of Rachel Faller, founder of Tonle:
I wanted to add to this that there are really several categories of pre-consumer textile waste. Deadstock is of course a big part of this, and perhaps the most contentious as you point out – but there are also offcuts and items that fail quality control during the process of production. While deadstock is sometimes planned into the production by mills, the other two are more clearly a kind of waste and a little less easy to recycle to the average designer or factory. At tonlé, the majority of our scraps are the later two categories and we see this as being very different from deadstock. Many of our materials are also post-consumer recycled. Thanks again for bringing this up and discussing the nuances here!
9 Sustainable Fashion Brands That Use Recycled and Deadstock Fabrics
1 | Fauxgerty
Sizes XXS-XL. Sourcing primarily American made vintage deadstock, Fauxgerty makes West-coast inspired classics for women.
Featured Item: The Sasha
Sizes PS-3X. The Renew collection features new designs made from old Eileen Fisher designs plus gently used clothing, proving that brands can be committed to circularity.
Featured Item: Striped Pullover (one of a kind)
3 | Reformation
Sizes XS-XL. Using deadstock and upcycled textiles throughout its entire line, Reformation is sexy, spirited, and vintage inspired.
Featured Item: Cashmere Boxy Sweater
4 | Tonle
Sizes XS-XL. Tonle strives to have zero waste production, with many of their designs created to make use of fabric scraps left over from pattern cutting. Case in point: this jacket.
Featured Item: Palm and Wine Jacket
5 | Dorsu
Sizes XS-XL. Using factory remnants from Cambodia’s garment factory, Dorsu produces a smart collection of contemporary, casual basics.
Featured Item: Slouch Pant
6 | Christy Dawn
Sizes XS-XL. The dreamiest of the bunch, Christy Dawn prioritizes vintage deadstock to produce their feminine, vintage-inspired dresses and jumpsuits. They even use recycled leather in their boots.
Featured Item: Basil Dress
7 | Neo-Thread
Sizes vary. Upcycling all the way! Modern silhouettes and embroidered clothing made from vintage and thrifted clothing.
Featured Item: Celestial Jean Bomber (one of a kind)
8 | Liz Alig
Sizes XS-XL. Using a combination of recycled materials and upcycled textiles, Liz Alig offers offbeat cotton clothing for women.
Featured Item: Dilsi Overalls
9 | Re/Done
Sizes vary. Vintage denim turned into…denim, but in a cool way. Re/Done modernizes silhouettes to bring new life to old jeans.
Featured Item: Academy Fit, size 27 (one of a kind – shop by size and style on the website)