Are Recycled & Deadstock Fabrics the Most Eco Friendly Option?

Updated: Sep 15, 2020

With the quick rise of sustainable fashion it is hard for consumers to know what the best options even are.  With any industry that grows in popularity this quickly, there are always brands jumping on the band wagon to simply make a quick buck & to avoid the question "what are you doing to lower your impact."

We've seen this with big brands such as H&M debuting a "conscious collection" or Ben & Jerry's getting in the dairy free ice cream game.  There are many ways in which a brand can claim they are doing their part to be more sustainable, including organic cotton, recycled polyester, & the growing industry of deadstock fabric brands.  So, that brings us to the question, is recycled & deadstock fabric really the most sustainable option for your clothing?  While it may seem like a great choice with brands like Reformation (who state they use all deadstock fabrics in their collections) broadcasting to consumers "Being naked is the most sustainable, we're #2."

But first, let's tackle what is deadstock fabric?  Deadstock fabric is textile that mills didn't sell or left over fabric that brands didn't use.   Brands who use deadstock fabric then buy them for a huge discount, financially benefitting fast fashion brands looking to recoup money on unused fabrics & benefiting the brands using the material as they are not paying full price for it.  And what exactly is recycled textiles?  Recycled fabrics can mean a number of different things, including polyester recycled into new poly, instead of creating new polyester.  But the most common nowadays is recycled plastic textiles, usually recycled plastic bottles or fishing nets.   It could also mean recycled cotton, linen, etc which is a different ball game.  More on that at a later time.   While brands who use a form of recycled plastic materials to create their clothing claim they are reducing the plastic in the oceans it still leaves many wondering is it eco friendly enough?  The short answer is: no.   One of the biggest problems in the fashion industry is the micro plastics that come from our clothing, usually when we wash them, and then enter the water stream.  It is now said that micro plastics from fashion account for more of the plastics in the oceans then from the cosmetic companies (from things like plastic micro beads in face wash).   Also, in a recent article on TheGuardian.Co.Uk a researcher stated, "While Patagonia and other outdoor companies, like Polartec, use recycled plastic bottles as a way to conserve and reduce waste, this latest research indicates that the plastic might ultimately end up in the oceans anyway – and in a form that’s even more likely to cause problems."   In the case of deadstock fabric my personal quarrel is that by buying these textiles off of big brands it is teaching them that someone else will clean up their mess.  They are making money off a fabrics that they ultimately didn't use & would have sat in a warehouse collecting dust.  Now, they profit from selling their leftover fabrics & can adopt the mentally that they are doing their part by reducing their textile wastes.  The benefit is all in both brands and their is no benefit really to the customer & definitely no benefit to the planet.  

 There also comes the part that if these garments ultimately still end up in a landfill, they will be there for the rest of time as recycled plastic still does not biodegrade.   The only real benefit to the planet that these textiles have is that they are not directly producing NEW textiles, which definitely does help because synthetic fabrics use tons of water & harsh chemicals to product.  But, the recycling process of most plastics (whether fabrics or bottles) does still use a huge amount of chemicals to turn them into usable textiles again.  So, what is the right way to reduce our plastic problem?  Well, easy answer, we have to stop using them to begin with.   Recycled plastic is still plastic and at some point will end up in a landfill or the ocean.   We must continue to demand that companies look for BETTER alternatives, better than just stamping a "50% post consumer material" on their shampoo bottle or shirt.   Again, if we simply tell big companies that recycled is good enough in the sustainability game, that is as far as they will go to jump on the planet friendly bandwagon & sell their goods.   We must challenge them to search for fibers that don't hurt the earth from their cultivation, to processing, to recycling.  That is the only way that fashion will really change for the better.   As for all the plastics, there are better ways to reuse old plastics, turning them into things that last instead of turning them into containers or cheap shirts that will continue to end up in the garbage.   We have to change our mentality & stop our plastic consumption.  And they only way we do this is by truly supporting the brands who are looking to create earth friendly products at every step of the way.  

So, while positive in the very short term, we really need to be thinking at the long term when it comes to Mother Earth.   And although it is a step in the right direction, we need to make sure we are continuing to make better steps.  We cannot stop here. 

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