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Deadstock fabric: an ethical choice for fashion brands or greenwashing?

«As a fashion system, we cannot be sustainable in any way. We can only try to be better by delivering the message to change»: Simone Ferraro, A Better Mistake

Deadstock and leftovers as a new resource/material for fashion

The term deadstock started as a moniker for labelling damaged or defective fabric, and has since extended to include surplus fabric from overproduction. But there is an actual difference between deadstock and available stock. Available stock can be referred to as fabric that a factory overproduces knowing that it will eventually be sold. Companies know that there will always be a customer for that kind of fabric: although it doesn’t have a buyer now, it will get purchased later.

Instead, deadstock fabric may result from any number of errors in textile mills and garment factories, including printing errors, small damages to the fabric, overestimation of the amount needed, fabric dyed the wrong color, not passing chemical or waterproof testing, or simply from being surplus fabric that cannot be used or sold. Overproduction is cheaper: it allows textile mills to save on labour, it makes it easier to keep complicated machinery running and ultimately feeds the demands of fast fashion brands.

While some of the extra garment is burnt or incinerated, companies prefer to get rid of materials by selling it; this way, they can earn more without letting it go to waste. Leftovers and scraps are generally bought by small brands and start-up labels for several reasons: the prices are lower and there is no minimum order requirement, which is helpful when you’re starting out in the business.

Being sustainable is not enough: A Better Mistake case

In addition to making unique and creative pieces from a limited quantity of fabric, brands are using deadstock as a way to rescue leftovers that are deemed as waste. Using this type of material means fewer virgin materials are being purchased, which translates to a decreased carbon footprint due to the reduction of the levels of energy and water used in its production. If the fabric is being saved from heading to the landfill or an incinerator, then it could be rightfully labelled as an eco-friendly choice.

Since the dilemma regarding whether or not deadstock is sustainable or not originates from overproduction, we must take into consideration where the problem is generated. We discussed the matter with designer Simone Ferraro, otherwise known as Madame_inc. He is the creative director of the Italian label, A Better Mistake, founded in 2019 with his partner Marco Agnolin.

«As a fashion system, we cannot be sustainable in any way, and we can only try to be better. I prefer the word ‘conscious’. Using deadstock fabric alone won’t change the whole ecosystem, but it’s a message that we like to deliver to other companies and also towards people. We don’t know where the material is from, but since it was already in the world, we assume that reusing it instead of putting new fabric around is the most honest way to work».

As helpful as it can be for brands to reuse discarded materials, it comes with risks for them as well. Mills and factories often don’t have the need to disclose why the fabric was rejected. Even for manufacturers it is difficult to trace where the material comes from even though they bought it with the best intentions.

Christy Dawn
Christy Dawn’s sustainable Hero Collection

Stepping out from the path traced by industries to change bad shopping habits

The fashion system has created an economic model that tempts people to buy more. The idea behind a brand participating in the fast fashion circuit is to reject the seasonal model of dressing. Rather, they favor a near-constant stream of new designs where clothes are sold for progressively lower prices, making people believe that they are saving money if they accept the bargain.

From this point of view, companies have to be blamed for showing customers the apparent ‘only’ way to buy clothes. Small realities, like A Better Mistake, rely their approach on another way to intent the business, inspiring people to take care of things so they have a longer life-span, and produce less clothes.

«For the knowledge that we have now, unfortunately, there’s no natural way to achieve vibrant color dyes», adds Ferraro, «but there are a lot of things that we can do to dye the clothes once and keep the color: first is controlling water in terms of quantity used, and also the purification machineries makes it possible to retain toxins from the dyes so they won’t go into the environment».

Another line that represents the values of repurposing and reconsidering leftover fabric is The Deadstock Collection by Christy Dawn. The brand works with revitalized and rescued finite fabric and creates limited collections to give the material another life cycle. Displayed inside the collection is a dress dyed using the screen printing technique, an ancient method used to work with mesh-like materials or silk.

The fear of greenwashing can mislead people into acting unsustainably

Being part of the fashion industry means putting something new out in the world that goes through a process where certain quantities of resources are employed every time. The entire business model revolves around production and consumption, even when it’s not massified. Deadstock material is a better choice for brands to use rather than new textiles, but what’s needed from brands is to rethink the process that actually causes overproduction in the first place.

The first thing that brands need to consider is to produce less and value quality garments so consumers don’t feel the urge to always replace what they’ve already bought. Sustainable brands whose clothing collections include deadstock fabric, have to implement other sustainable and eco-friendly practices throughout their business – such as reducing waste, resale or take-back programs – as well as supporting their communities and treating their workers ethically.

This issue was raised with Ferraro as well: «When we started, we were aware of our limitations. That’s why we want to actively get in conversation with our customers so they tell us in which way we need to improve, and how to get better. Transportation is another big problem when it comes to environmental impact. We want to be as close to our suppliers as possible. It has a much higher cost, but it’s a cost we are happy to assume somehow. For us it’s not about being exclusive but more about an intimate relationship we have with clothes, and appreciation of the things that we have».

Is buying deadstock clothing unethical?

By buying available stock fashion, you are buying into the concept of overproduction. Most of the deadstock that is being sold is really just available, purposely over-produced yardage. A big part of factories’ willingness to overproduce is growing local markets, never intending them to end up in a landfill, and instead making lower price clothing for a third world economy. I

ndustries’ first concern should be to make themselves available in tracking and reporting every information about the provenience of the leftovers they use, why they have been discarded, and how they’ve been produced. Western markets don’t matter as much as the majority of the production is based in India and China, whose numbers are only going to grow in the near future. Christy Dawn’s ethical approach for instance, is to invest in the quality of soil, replenishing it through regenerative practices to reverse climate change.

The company started with four acres of land in Erode, India and together with Oshadi Collective – a community of traditional farmers and craftspeople – they are growing their own cotton, weaving it and vegetable dying it using centuries-old methods. There’s still an unsolved problem regarding transparency and material sourcing that most of the companies are having trouble with, an issue which only good practices within partners and third parties can fix.

A Better Mistake

is a Milan based fashion brand. Founded in 2019 by designers Simone Ferraro and Marco Agnolin, it follows a community-driven and conscious mantra on how to be sustainable, creating limited collections from deadstock material in collaboration with global artists and designers.

Christy Dawn

is a fashion brand founded in Los Angeles by the homonymous designer. They are committed to regenerative farming in India, with the initiative Farm-to-Closet. Their Deadstock Collection features pieces made from rescued and revitalized fabric that are meant to last a lifetime.

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
crafted according to our editorial search

Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
for more info, please email us

check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
crafted according to our editorial search

Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore
Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only
natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
for more info, please email us at [email protected]

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