Gone are the days when brands could sell their latest designs without customers wanting to know how and where the garments were made, and the true cost of manufacturing.
Consumers are demanding more from their favorite apparel brands than ever before. They want greater visibility of the manufacturing process, they want to see big companies held accountable, they want a committed move towards sustainable practices, and they want to buy from businesses that are built around morals and ethics, not pure profit. Most importantly, they’re prepared to call out the brands that don’t.
But despite this move towards an ethical fashion industry, there remains the presence of one looming, gargantuan obstacle that plays a key role in establishing fashion as the second most polluting industry after oil: waste.
Fabric waste is a part of the apparel product lifecycle both at the beginning and at the end. According to the Council for Textile Recycling, it’s estimated that 15% of fabric ends up on the cutting room floor before the garment is even constructed and 85% of clothing and textiles end up in landfill after we dispose of it. It’s a significant and unrelenting issue. The vast majority of fabric, even that which is made from natural fibers, does not bio-degrade, leaving our landfills with clothing scraps that off-gas and do not decompose.
So, how to go about reducing the amount of waste that clothes produce?
The use of deadstock fabric is one strategy that is challenging the way mainstream fashion is being produced. Not only is waste created during the pattern-cutting process, it is also generated by over-buying. Large brands will often buy 2,000-5,000 yards of fabric for a typical production run of one style. They may over-forecast, anticipating a higher selling volume, and end up with 500 yards of unused fabric. This yardage, called deadstock, can sit in a warehouse, unused, for months or years, until it is finally sent to be scrapped.
Increasingly, companies are realizing the potential for creating beautiful, stylish garments out of this abandoned yardage. Made up of left-over fabric from garment factories, deadstock is at the heart of the movement towards upcycling and recycling. Combined with other sustainable practices such as zero-waste pattern cutting, it can significantly reduce the amount of waste that ends up in the landfill and on the cutting room floor.
It’s no new concept, yet it has taken many companies a while to catch on to what can be achieved through recycling unwanted fabric. Companies like Patagonia, who have been making use of deadstock fabric for years, paved the way for younger brands such as Reformation to carry the torch. Sustainability is becoming more mainstream in the fashion industry. Clothing giants, such as H&M, have launched new “eco” initiatives, but the process has been slow and there’s still a long way to go.
Who’s responsible for making it happen?
In large part, it starts with the designer. Fabric choice is always a key element in the design of garments, and it’s a choice that impacts the entire manufacturing process. Taking the sustainable path doesn’t have to be a compromise either. If anything, creativity can be enhanced through the use of deadstock fabric; reimagining each piece as something new gives life to old materials that have their own story to tell.
At Brass, we recently introduced Short Supply, limited edition pieces produced with deadstock, in quantities of 200 pieces or less. Our first piece in this collection is The Work Blouse, made from a gorgeous mid-weight poly that resembles a crepe-de-chine with none of the upkeep that silk demands. The fabric itself was leftover from one of our factory’s other customers. We identified this deadstock fabric last fall when we visited and knew we wanted to use it in production. Its gorgeous drape and feminine blush color lent itself to a beautiful top and that’s how The Work Blouse was born.
Going forward, we will continue to improve and produce our tried-and-true fan favorites on a regular basis, encouraging women to buy better quality foundational pieces. Additionally, Short Supply pieces will allow us to test new concepts, styles, and colors in small batches andput fabric to use that would otherwise head to the landfill. We hope that these unique pieces become a fun, yet conscientious, way for you to add a little something new to your wardrobe.
Small, start-up apparel companies have proven that there’s no reason why ethics and sustainability can’t be integrated as part of a thriving business model – not just as a by-product or an afterthought, but something that’s at the core of the brand itself. The creative use of what would otherwise become trash, is one small way that apparel brands can impact the supply chain and align their values with action.
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