Also known as “overstock”, “surplus fabric/inventory”.
Any excess or leftover materials that can't be used for their original purpose or order fulfillment.
Last week we released our newest piece of the BEDI collection: The MILE-END tote bag, which will become available at the end of the month. As you can see from the image, these totes are made from our own deadstock materials and our signature upcycled seatbelts. Today we are going to break down what the term “deadstock” really means, its history, and how it is changing the landscape of the fashion industry from the inside out.
How Does Deadstock Impact our Environment?
That is the value of deadstock fabric cluttering the world’s warehouses. This excess fabric is thought to cost the fashion industry even more - up to $152 billion annually.
Historically, unused materials from the fashion sector have usually been simply thrown away into landfills. As of 2017, the annual amount of solid textile waste was estimated to be about 92 million tons (while deadstock materials did not make up the entirety of this waste, they were a key player in this statistic).
The same year, Burberry made headlines for burning $37 million worth of inventory that couldn’t sell (taking place in the UK). The scandal was justified with the defense of “recovering energy”, however many speculate that it was all to maintain the brand’s image of prestige. There are a lot of retailers and brands that incinerate or burn their unsold inventory and returned products using the same defense, as there can be a tax benefit in many countries for the destruction of these goods as long as it is in the name of “energy recovery”. To the untrained eye, this translates to “another notch on the belt of efforts towards environmental responsibility” when in reality this is a very sneaky loophole in the system that companies have been able to use in order to save money while still being extremely wasteful.
There are warehouses around the world filled to the brim with fabrics that end up unused and taking space for years for many reasons - because they don’t quite suit the owner’s vision, they are the wrong colour or size for the project, or simply because there isn’t enough fabric left on the roll. Rather than eventually ending up in a landfill, these rolls of fabric can be repurposed as Deadstock Fabric.
Supply Chain Issues & Canadian Relevancy
As a result of the uproar from 2017’s Burberry scandal, the UK Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee created a report with recommendations to address the massive environmental impact of the fashion industry. This report was echoed across the globe, and was extremely relevant in the Canadian context as our fashion consumption closely resembles that of the UK in fast fashion and imports.
In Canada, the issue of waste from over-consumption had been noticed and accounted for by then. In 2009, the Canada-wide Action Plan for Extended Producer Responsibility (also known as EPR) was produced. The goal was to advise policies for provinces to implement on imported products. The plan was made up of two phases. Today, 12 years later, only “phase one products” have provincial recycling programs: packaging, electronics, and car parts. Textiles were saved for phase two as at the time there was a massive lack of data and technology to implement an infrastructure for “responsible disposal”. The recommended timeline from the government was 8 years to fill in the gaps so that by 2017 there would be efficient recycling programs put in place across the country.
Obviously, we missed that deadline. Today, British Columbia includes textiles in a future EPR plan and Ontario has the “Textile Diversion Collaborative”, which is a non-profit promoting municipal initiatives (Notably: the City of Markham’s Textile Recycling Program). Other than that, the disposal options for Canadian retailers are mostly through companies and non-profit organizations that re-use or re-sell. While this might seem like a good strategy, 75% to 80% of donations do not meet requirements for reuse by the secondhand market. And - you guessed it - all of those garments end up in landfills. Even if exported, these garments can remain unfit for reuse and end up in landfills around the world.
Chile is currently facing a crisis with more than 60,000 tons of discarded clothing from the west being dumped in the Atacama Desert - an area spanning 41,000 square miles. This dumping site is being referred to as a “fast fashion graveyards” and dire consequences for the environment and the local community.
Clearly, there is a massive need on a national and global level for scaled-up recycling options to treat deadstock fashion textiles and inventory, and to keep retailers from destroying their excess stock. Fashion Takes Action recently published “A Feasibility Study of Textile Recycling in Canada” which comes to a similar conclusion (read here).
In a perfect world, deadstock materials from the fashion industry (or even from outside of the fashion industry) that can’t be reused or resold could be used or up-cycled by other brands to create new pieces. Today one could argue that the only renewable resource we have now as a species is our own waste. It is so important not only to find ways to minimize it, but to stop creating it altogether.
Reality: The “Greenwashing” of Deadstock
While most deadstock is genuine, many companies have found ways to create a profit through deliberate overproduction so that they can market pieces and textile rolls as “Deadstock”. But is “Deadstock” really “dead” if created intentionally? Overproducing materials to create an excess in order to sell to the “sustainably-minded market” has become a new form of greenwashing in the textile industry.
Even sneakier are “Deadstock Jobbers”, who buy genuine deadstock from fabric mills and resell them at a much higher pricepoint, leaving producers to have to pay a premium to make what seems like a more responsible choice, which is creating a real problem within the industry. Both the deliberate overproduction and reselling of deadstock fabric at exorbitantly higher prices are forms of greenwashing that are setting our whole market back.
How to Support Brands Doing the “Right Thing”
The genuine use of leftover materials really adds up, considering 15% of fabric on average is wasted in just the cutting process. But with so much sneaky marketing that exists today, how can one see through the greenwashed landscape of retail and make truly responsible purchase decisions? The answer is by asking questions. And we’re not talking about scratching the surface, we mean trying to find out the who, what, when, and where of each product you purchase. What is your winter coat really made of (or as we like to say, what are the ingredients)? Who actually made the jewelry you are wearing, and were they provided safe working conditions? Who picked and processed the cotton of the t-shirt you are wearing, and did this process pollute the environment or exploit that worker? And in the context of deadstock, where did it really come from? The easier it is to find these answers, the more transparent the brand is. Brand transparency is the key to a truly sustainable fashion industry and a circular economy.
For our new tote bags, we are using our own dead-stock materials. By this, we mean the excess pieces and rolls of materials from the production of our own bags and coats here in Montreal that cannot be used to create new product otherwise. These materials, such as Econyl (read more here) are all produced in countries with ethical labour laws protecting the rights of workers by providing safe working environments and fair wages. As always, once we receive materials everything we produce is made right here in Montreal, Canada. And lastly, anything that isn’t quite perfect enough to sell or that is returned to us gets refurbished and put on our Second Life page. Every step of the production process for all of our products, from concept to execution, puts the well-being of our environment and our global community first. Always.
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