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Billie Eilish has spoken: deadstock is the new luxury fashion status symbol

Photography By Olivia Lord for RIISE
Published 18.08.22

Deadstock was once considered a dirty word in the vocabulary of the luxury fashion world.

Now, deadstock fabric is trending. Take this year’s Met Gala: the most talked about looks from celebrities like Billie Eilish, Shawn Mendes, Amy Schumer and Venus Williams were all made from deadstock.

Using rolls of high-quality surplus materials to make beautiful garments is a no-brainer style-wise, but we’re also seeing more designers searching for deadstock fabric as a way of improving their sustainability efforts.

So, what exactly is it? Below, we take a look at what this material really is and the impact it’s having for the environment. To find out why so many brands are turning to it, we also speak to the designer and director of Australian-made label Autark, Sophia McMahon, who has been designing with deadstock fabric since the brand’s inception.

What is deadstock fabric?

While there’s no uniform definition, deadstock fabric usually refers to excess material that’s been recovered from factory floors. It would have otherwise been sent to landfill or incinerated if not sold as deadstock. Often it’s left sitting there because large brands have overestimated their fabric needs, the material doesn’t meet their quality standards, the fabric mill has produced the wrong colour, or people and brands have cancelled orders.

Michael Comninus for RIISE

Why deadstock fabric is becoming so popular

Deadstock is cheaper than new fabric to buy; it can be delivered faster, reduce production times and slash the volume of resources used to make a garment. It’s also ideal for designers and labels who want to place small orders.

Sophia says that, when operating on a small scale and producing few units, using deadstock fabrics is a wonderful option. “[It meant] we weren’t constrained by minimum order quantities which can be really prohibitive when you’re first starting out”.

Deadstock resale platform Nona Source (funded by Louis Vuitton owner LVMH) admits, while it’s open to everyone, younger designers are a particular focus. “There are designers looking for quality materials but who can’t afford them because they’re very expensive, or the quantities they need to order are very high – so we [created an] offering that could match their needs,” Nona Source co-founder Romain Brabo tells Vogue.

SupplyCompass – which recently launched an online library for deadstock – says in the last three months 90 per cent of the brands reaching out to the company for the first time asked about deadstock; in the six months prior, that figure was only 35 per cent.

That rising figure is also due to more brands improving their sustainability commitments. By using deadstock fabric, they’re able to take advantage of materials that already exist, giving them an opportunity to be upcycled into something beautiful, rather than sit in landfill or be incinerated. “In an industry that sadly perpetuates the creation of waste, we love that deadstock fabric gives us the ability to utilise something that may otherwise not have been used,” Sophia says.

Michael Comninus for RIISE

The other appeal of working with deadstock

Beyond waste reduction, deadstock helps brands test out collections before committing to much larger quantities. Sophia says that, while availability and access to the fabrics can sometimes be restricted, it actually makes what’s produced a lot more exclusive. “As the choices are finite, the availability of the fabric inevitably decides the design, making its own unique impact on the final piece of clothing. It gives creative control over to the fabric itself – you can’t make a fabric behave in a way that it’s not built to,” Sophia says.

This is obvious in one of Sophia’s favourite Autark designs, the Off Shoulder Blouse, which she says really shows how the different deadstock fabrics can change a piece of clothing’s personality: slinky and sleek in the silk twill, and voluminous and playful in the cotton poplin.

While the fabric choices may be tighter, they are often of a higher quality. “My favourite thing about working with deadstock is it’s often of Italian and Japanese origin, and of exceptional quality. It’s different to a lot of other fabrics I see,” Sophia says.

Is deadstock fabric actually any better for the environment?

Ultimately, deadstock is allowing brands to use materials that are already in circulation, which means less resources used in comparison to creating virgin fabrics. 

An easy way to understand this is by looking at the world’s most iconic jeans: Levi’s. Levi Strauss & Co. analysed the life cycle of the 501s (which this year turned 149). Over the pants’ life span, they found that more than 33.4kg of carbon dioxide equivalent (CDE) would be released into the atmosphere. In particular, the fabric production and fibre stages contributed to over a third of total emissions. So, theoretically, if you were to create a pair of wicked jeans with deadstock that had also released the same amount of CDE, you would no doubt come out on top – environmentally speaking.

That’s not to say deadstock doesn’t come with its challenges. There’s a major lack of traceability and transparency for deadstock, as mills are not legally required to disclose why the fabric was rejected. Plus, there’s increasing concern that, by building a demand for waste, it enables brands to dodge the real problem of overproduction – or even worse, to promote the intentional production of deadstock. 

But there’s a whole host of brands out there like Autark using deadstock fabrics, who are also looking further into their environmental impact and supply chain – and they’re the ones we think are worth buying into. 

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