Fashion brands thrive on staying ahead of the curve to offer the latest on-trend looks and designs to consumers, but an increasing number of them are turning to discarded fabrics and old products to reinvigorate their collections.
The fashion industry disposes an estimated 14 million tons of clothing and fabric every year, much of which contain harmful chemicals and toxins. In many cases, overstocked items end up getting tossed (or, in some more troubling cases, burned). However, there’s a growing movement in the fashion industry comprised of brands turning to these overstocked products and unused fabrics, known as deadstock, to create refreshed looks.
“This industry is built on what’s the newest, hottest, freshest thing. Everybody wants the next big thing in fashion,” said Holly Harshman, director of marketing at Raj Swim, a swimwear company that uses leftover fabric to make new products for its VYB Swim brand. “We changed the way we saw it. For us, it’s hot and fresh, because we’re going to create it in a new way.”
What is deadstock?
Deadstock is, quite literally, dead stock. It refers to unused fabric that accumulates in the corners of factories and unsold products that compile in retail stores before ending in landfills. The origins of the term aren’t definitive, but it has ties to streetwear culture, which began using deadstock to refer to resale sneakers in the 1990s.
“I first heard the term ‘deadstock’ when the eBay phenomena started,” Bobbito Garcia, author and sneaker enthusiast, told Complex in 2016. “I surmise that resellers were trying to describe unavailable sneaker models that had been purchased on bargain tables, or ones that had been dug out of dusty basements at old shops, or ones that people had owned but never had worn. “
Got it. Why does it sound so bleak?
The presence of deadstock indicates that a particular item didn’t sell well, hence the surplus of product and fabric. Shoppers often take this as an indicator of poor performance, so retailers aren’t keen to announce they have deadstock on their hands. “Over the years, deadstock has been a faux pas, like the redheaded stepchild of the factory that nobody wanted to talk about,” said Holly Swope, senior designer at Raj Swim. “Using deadstock became a shift in the way that we saw that excess fabric and utilized it.”
How did its perception shift?
As consumers became increasingly eco-conscious, the demand for sustainable fashion rose, and designers used this as a call to action. Retailers began looking for ways to integrate recycled fabrics into their supply chains, or finding ways to reuse and recycle old designs. For some, including Raj Swim, this now comes from their own supply of fabrics, while other brands are starting to team up to sell each other overstocked fabrics in an effort to prevent waste and create unique looks.
How are companies using it in practice?
Raj Swim has the benefit of its factory being located right next to their home office in Los Angeles, which means its designers can walk over to take a look at deadstock and brainstorm ideas of how to use it. For example, a particular pattern may not have sold well when used for a one-piece, but when cut into a bikini, it may fly off the shelf.
What brands are using deadstock?
Using deadstock is a growing trend among several smaller and emerging companies (particularly on the West Coast), but it is also an integral part of the way companies like Reformation make their clothes. Reformation, which was founded in 2009 on an ethos of sustainability, has helped pave the way for how luxury brands can use deadstock to create new, innovative designs. Founder and CEO Yael Aflalo does not use synthetic fabrics and uses vintage clothes as the basis for fresh looks. 40 percent of Reformation’s fabrics are vintage or deadstock, and the rest of its products are made using sustainable fabrics like Tencel and Viscose.
How do consumers benefit from designs made with deadstock?
Products that are made from deadstock are generally cheaper, since they’re made with out-of-season fabric. At the same time, they are more exclusive since there is less fabric to work with. L.A.-based designer Christy Dawn, who frequently incorporates deadstock into her work, often makes just a single dress using a particular unused fabric, which results a truly one-of-a-kind look.