Creating fabrics can be a messy business.
The fashion industry is responsible for 20% of the world's industrial water pollution and over 8000 toxic chemicals are used to turn raw materials into textiles. When these fabrics aren't used up by major fashion houses, they often end up as part of the 11 million tons of textiles that are sent to landfills each year - and that's in America alone! These excess fabrics are referred to as DEADSTOCK.
Fashion houses often sell off this material to a middleman, known as a jobber, who will hold the fabric, trying to sell it to a wide range of customers. However, if the fabric does not get purchased after a certain period of time, these vendors are forced to dispose of it in order to make room for new inventory that might be deemed as more desirable.
This explains why a lot of smaller fashion labels are trying to champion the use of Deadstock materials.
There have been a number of articles out there saying that the use of deadstock is just "greenwashing" a much larger issue within the fashion industry - the issue of over production. When a mill sets up the machines to create (i.e. weave or knit) a fabric, it takes a lot of time & energy to get them prepared to make a specific fabric. As such, the only way it makes sense for a mill to go through this process, is if the customer is buying a certain amount of fabric. Otherwise, the set up costs alone would outweigh any profit they would make on the sale of the fabric itself. Because of this, mills usually require what's known as a "minimum" - i.e. the minimum amount of fabric a customer can purchase per type. These minimums can be pretty high, but fashion companies tend to negotiate or go along with the requested amount.
Here's where things get a little interesting.
There are a lot of reasons that these fabrics end up not being used. They range from an irregularity occurring within the yardage, the style being "dropped" if it is not purchased by retailers during a wholesale market, or the brand going in a different aesthetic direction due to a change in the team (either design, merchandising, or executive direction). Most of the time, somewhere around 80-90% of a fabric order ends up being used, but there are left over rolls that aren't enough to use for a future style & aren't needed for the current production run. These end up being sold off to a jobber.
There's a common misconception that these fabrics, when purchased from a jobber are "heavily discounted" and that these small eco-brands are somehow just "pocketing" the difference. In my 12 years of experience, that's not the case. The price of the fabrics are actually MUCH higher per yard than what the fashion brand originally paid, because where they might have been buying 10,000 yards, you're buying the 23.4yds that are left over (as an example). I've seen the same fabric that costs $4.50/yard for a large brand from a supplier, cost a smaller designer $12/yard to buy from a jobber. Not to mention that the cost to actually cut, sew, & finish the small number of units these brands are making (i.e. 100 tops instead of 8,000 tops) is at least double if not triple the cost of what the larger brands are paying.
So, at the end of the day, is using deadstock fabric eco-friendly? In my opinion, it's much better for the planet than going out and creating, dying, printing, etc additional fabric from scratch. These fabrics are out there - they exist already - and if nobody uses them they DO end up being disposed of. Is there a larger issue around fabric minimums? Absolutely. But this is a complex issue involving worker's rights, hourly wage, and import versus domestic mills. It's important to have the dialogue, but in the meantime, I applaud eco-designers using deadstock materials... someone needs to.
Just a little #eco food for thought.