Is Deadstock the Answer to Fashion’s Waste Problem?

Deadstock textiles have been gaining popularity in the fashion world over the past decade. The examples are endless. From Harris Reed’s Dead Stock Collections to Emily Bode crafting one-of-a-kind pieces from deadstock materials.

There’s no shortage of creative output using surplus materials over their virgin counterparts. 

While many brands are jumping on board, and reaching for the previous season’s scraps before ordering new textiles. Others are questioning if using deadstock is a viable long-term solution to fashion’s waste problem. 

The deadstock opportunity

At this very moment, there is over $120 Billion in excess textiles sitting in warehouses. These materials, which are leftover from previous collections, or the result of overproduction in textile mills, are known as deadstock. 

Historically these materials have been destroyed by burning or slashing and sent to landfills. In what is now becoming the old rules of the road, fashion brands would rather throw away their excess than risk another brand using their materials. 

However, with the industry searching for ways to reduce waste and implement circular solutions, deadstock materials are finding their way into center stage in the sustainability conversation. From brands crafting their collections with the excess materials of other brands, to sourcing platforms making it easier to get ahold of fabrics, the industry is embracing deadstock with open arms. 

This opportunity is not only less wasteful, making it environmentally appealing. It’s also lucrative, allowing brands to bring in revenue from what would be wasted, or save on their textiles budgets.

We often forget that sustainability has 3 pillars: People, Planet and Prosperity. Utilizing deadstock is checks the boxes of the two later pillars. 

Why does deadstock exist?

Naturally, we should question why there is so much excess in the first place?
While I wish there was a straight answer to this question, there isn’t. Rather, there are many reasons why we have a vast amount of deadstock materials throughout the fashion industry. For example, the most common reasons are:

  • Over ordering of materials from the brands
  • Overproduction of materials from the textile mills
  • Flaws, Dying, or Printing Errors
  • Rejected materials that didn’t meet the Quality standards 

Some industry professionals have been making the case that we should be focused on fixing the issues that have just been outlined, rather than championing deadstock materials. While it’s true that these issues need addressing and shouldn’t be allowed to fly under the radar, we can’t just ignore the surplus of materials that are already in circulation. The top players in the deadstock market, like Queen of Raw, are aware of this and have publicly stated that they hope one day that their services won’t be necessary. 

Queen of Raw

Deadstock the Pros and Cons

Sustainability is never black and white, and at this moment in time, we are in the awkward in-between stage, where we are learning and readjusting. Many of the solutions that are being created now might not be relevant in the future, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t important for the space we are in currently. 

With each potential solution, comes some flaws. Using deadstock materials is not immune to that. While it might work for one brand, it might not work for another. Like anything in sustainability, it’s important to understand the pros and cons before implementing. 

Deadstock Pro’s

  • Reduces the number of fabrics headed for the landfills or burned
  • Promotes Accessibility 
  • No/low Minimum Quantity Orders (MOQs) 
  • Reduces the amount of virgin textiles used/manufacture (reducing water use, CO2, and chemical usage)
  • Allows for another stream of income or saves on materials budget

Deadstock Con’s

  • May encourage overproduction (textile mills) 
  • May encourage over-ordering (brands)
  • Might need to compromise on color, texture, or finish

While the last point on the cons list is less relevant for the environmental side of things, it’s a very real problem for designers. Luckily for the industry and the planet, sourcing deadstock is easier than ever, and finding specific qualities is as simple as filtering for size on any e-commerce website.

Deadstock Availability: Sourcing Platforms

Up until the mid-twenty-tens sourcing, deadstock material was a feat in and of itself. Fashion brands, especially luxury houses, kept their excess fabrics hidden away in warehouses or destroyed them. They didn’t want to disclose or share any information that could result in another brand copying their work. 

As deadstock became a way for brands to curb waste, innovators got to work on a way to make sourcing deadstock materials as available as shopping online.

Now globally there are numerous platforms available for deadstock sourcing. 

The most prominent platform to date is Queen of Raw. It was founded in 2014, today they have over 325,000 buyers and sellers worldwide. Underlining the need, and highlighting the gap in the market for commercially available deadstock materials. The platform works similarly to e-bay, they don’t hold any inventory, but rather allow companies to upload their excess fabrics. 

On top of bringing ease to sourcing, Queen of Raw is using tech to fight overproduction or over-ordering of materials. They are doing this by tracking the number of textiles uploaded on the platform by each brand or Mill each season. This way if they notice something off they can address the company directly. 

It should be no surprise that a company like Queen of Raw was listed as a finalist for LVMH’s Innovation Award. While they didn’t take home the grand prize in 2020, they did spark LVMH to take action with their luxury surplus materials. 

Nona Source Homepage

Nona Source, LVMH’s latest venture launched April 2021, makes the excess materials from their French Maisons de Couture available and accessible for anyone to purchase.  It’s remarkable to think that an independent designer that is just starting can afford to source the same material used for a couture collection. Platforms such as these are chipping away at the gate-keeping that has been prevalent within the industry for the last century. They are not only helping clean up the industry but in addition, they are helping to usher in a new era of openness and accessibility.

While it might be unclear or even unlikely that deadstock materials will be the end-all-be-all answer to the fashions waste problem, for now at least the pros strongly outweigh the potential cons. 

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