· Focus on a key challenge for the textile industry ·
Every day hundreds of millions of pieces of clothing are produced around the world to satisfy consumer demand. The fast fashion craze and the cyclical nature of fashion have only worsen the situation.
The impacts of clothing production are immense, but increasingly well identified. It is now well known that a piece of clothing represents an astronomical consumption of energy, water, greenhouse gas emissions, micro-plastics and chemicals, not to mention the associated waste, throughout the production and distribution chain and right up to the end of the garment’s life.
However, there is still one issue that is often overlooked and yet contributes fully to the disaster that is the textile industry today: dormant stocks.
(c) Ekaterina Grosheva
What are they? Where do they come from? What are their impacts? Let’s shed some light on this subject
Dormant stocks are fabrics that are produced for a textile brand, but which will eventually be abandoned for two main reasons: they are unsold or unsaleable.
There are two main types of dormant fabric:
- Those remaining with the fabric manufacturer (even before the garments are made)
- Those that are accumulated throughout the production chain under the ownership of brands, designers or fashion houses.
If we had these fabrics in front of us, it is certain that we would not understand the reason for their abandonment. Indeed, most of them are in good condition, original, pleasant, well worked, in short, most of them are still usable. So why don’t they go through the warehouse door?
For manufacturers, a simple cancelled order, a design that doesn’t appeal, a colour error, a defect that is rarely visible to the naked eye, or a series that is too old, can be enough to signal the end of a fabric’s life.
For brands, the very process of creating a piece contributes to the constitution of these stocks. We could compare the design / prototyping phase to a standardised waste exercise: there are as many prototypes produced as there are design ideas. However, each sample can require up to 25 metres of fabric.
Another stage is also a tricky one for the pieces: the trade fairs. Indeed, when a model manages to pass all the stages of creation and finally sees the light of day, it will be presented to retailers by the brand at trade fairs. However, if it is not as successful as expected, its production will be cancelled and the fabric ordered will be abandoned.
Finally, it is important to understand that brands often receive the material in large quantities for a simple reason: it is customary to allow the supplier a margin of more or less 5% of fabric on the quantities he delivers.
So the problem is there, but what exactly does this mean?
Three important points of tension:
- The first is obviously environmental, as each metre of fabric produced adds significant pressure on water supplies, as well as air and soil pollution.
- The second is related to the storage of these stocks, which requires heated and lit spaces.
- The last is economic, as according to an analysis by the online marketplace Queen of Raw: “Every year, unused fabric costs the fashion industry about $120 billion. For some large companies, this can represent a 15% impact on the annual bottom line.”
(c) François Le Nguyen
So who can make a difference?
Clearly, regulations can influence the fate of these stocks. In fact, they have already done so! Remember the scandal of the burnt clothes? Well, in France, this is no longer possible since the law of 10 February 2020. This law allows companies that donate unsold new clothes to be exempted from VAT adjustment. It also places destruction as the ultimate alternative and favours prevention, reuse and recycling. Since the end of 2021, it is also forbidden to destroy unsold goods. Finally, it reaffirms the categorisation of new TLC products (Clothing, Linen & Shoes) under an EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) which requires marketers to participate in financing the costs of collection, sorting and recovery.
As consumers, our power lies mainly in the act of buying, but it weighs more than we think in the balance! The simple fact of reducing our purchases is pushing manufacturers to rethink their models. Indeed, according to the WWF report on the clothing and textile industry: “We buy an average of 20 kilos of clothes… per year! Yet we almost always wear the same ones.” Then let’s take care of our clothes and repair them! And when we buy, let’s do it consciously.
Nevertheless, the economic players in the sector are the first to be concerned. For many years, some of these fabrics have been sold to retailers at knock-down prices. However, there has since been a real democratisation of trends around second-hand and upcycling, the practice of giving value back to materials that are no longer needed by transforming them.
As a result, young fashion designers are increasingly reviving these abandoned fabrics. The revolution is also taking place internally, but it is more complex. In fact, the yardage is sometimes too short to recreate a line or an entire collection from the fabric. Also, reordering the same reference from the supplier is tricky because of changes in manufacturing processes, pigments, etc.
However, when the garment is redesigned and dormant stocks are taken into account, great initiatives are taken! Among them, “invisible remanufacturing” for which dormant fabrics are used in specific areas such as linings or the inside of pockets. “Visible remanufacturing” also exists and notes the company’s commitment to creating a garment with a modular look with small touches of dormant fabrics for pockets or the collar.
(c) Alyssa Strohmann
What if we change the way we consider these stocks?
Since always, it is the designers’ sketches that give life to a material. Why shouldn’t it be the other way around? To do this, we need to adopt a new vision of textiles and its entire ecosystem, which is fashion.
There are three ways to make a company evolve: rethink the business model, transform the product, or change the process. Each of these levels of innovation can be a solution to the problem of dormant stocks.
- By improving the relationship with suppliers and the prototype design process
- By taking into account, from the design phase, those fabrics already produced and designing the item so that these original pieces enhance it rather than degrade it
- By producing less, but better, by moving from selling clothes to selling trends, where the product becomes a service. Sharing, reusing, repairing, are all solutions for the different existing models.
Let’s look at some examples of success stories that can inspire entrepreneurs, consumers, or large companies in the textile industry.
The ultimate prize for design and innovation, however, goes to young designers. They are much more aware and informed about social and environmental issues.
Circulab has been working with students of the International Fashion Academy (IFA Paris), in order to answer their questions on the application of the circular economy to their industry and to train them on the Circulab Toolbox.
On the market, some young French upcycling brands are gaining visibility such as: Nowmade Wear, Resap Paris, or, for slightly more couture collections, Amour Collective. Internationally, Outerknown, Re/Done, and Zero Waste Daniel are making their way into the wardrobe.
In order to rethink and develop the companies already established, it is necessary to support the change internally. For example, Circulab trained the teams of the French brand Salomon to better master the new circular business models. Also, platforms such as Refashion help learn about the different possible alternatives to linear models.
Finally, the movement is underway and many actors are mobilising to rethink the fate of these abandoned fabrics. Do you know the story of the ugly duckling that eventually turns into a swan? Well, this is the same fate that should befall every piece of fabric left at the bottom of a warehouse. So let’s work together to awaken these dormant stocks paying tribute to their true value.
By Célia Boccard, Project Manager, Circulab