Evolution and limits of the unused materials market

Translated by

Nicola Mira


Mar 18, 2024

In the past five years, exploiting stocks of unused materials has gradually become an element in the strategies deployed by fashion labels and designers. A sustainable approach that has fostered the growth of an entire ecosystem of start-ups and operators, whose existence is proof of the growing popularity of these materials as alternatives to recycling.

Leather from dormant stock commercialised by Adapta – Adapta

Buried treasure can be found in the warehouses of fashion brands and major maisons. Materials laid aside during a collection’s preparation, or because of a change in strategy, which were never transformed into finished products. Adapta was set up in Paris in 2018 with the goal of finding buyers for the unused leather inventory held by leading labels. The company currently claims 800 client brands, but in its early days it had to convince the industry that it wasn’t going to supplant existing producers.

“With dormant stocks, we are not undermining the business of traditional suppliers,” said Virginie Ducatillon, founder of Adapta. “Dormant stocks are available as one-off seasonal products, since no restocking is possible, while traditional suppliers commercialise permanent collections and are able to restock their clients,” she added.

Atelier des Matières was founded in 2019 by Chanel, and it began by selling unused fabrics and materials that quickly became popular with emerging labels and designers. “Given the incentives, new regulations, increased environmental awareness, and scarcity of materials, using dormant stocks has become an obvious solution for a young generation of designers,” said Nativity Rodriguez, managing director of Atelier des Matières.

Romain Brabo, who co-founded Nona Source in 2019 with the LVMH group’s backing, has a more radical view. Between labels keen to offload unused inventory and emerging designers on the look-out for new materials, Brabo believes that dormant stocks are ushering in an entirely new way of designing. “It’s a paradigm shift, with designers asking themselves how to create from what is available to them in terms of materials, colours and volumes,” he said.

Feat Coop

Disposing of unused inventory is nothing new. Many companies have long been operating in this specialised business. They mostly buy by the pound and sell to the highest bidder, a practice that poses several problems for labels, such as a restricted range of options and no traceability. Hence the growing success of start-ups like Adapta, Nona Source, Atelier des Matières, and local companies like, in France, Feat Coop, which has been selling dormant stocks since 2022 in the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region, and Uptrade, which first rolled out its fabrics range in 2021.

New mentality

A new mentality is gaining traction even among more established labels, keen to cut down on unused materials. “Labels are paying increasing attention to this issue,” said Ducatillon. “We are witnessing fewer excesses, though they still happen sometimes. We recently had the case of 1,800 square meters of unused smooth black lambskin. More often, we come across 100 square metres in the same colour. But these cases are becoming the exception,” she added.

There is a growing understanding of the issues, reflected in the enquiries received by companies selling dormant stock. “A few years ago, we used to be contacted mostly by true believers, who made it a mission [to use dormant stock]. Nowadays, we’re receiving enquiries by a new kind of client,” said Rodriguez.

Nona Source

In 2022, fashion labels had to deal with soaring material production costs, and in 2023 with shrinking consumer expenditure on apparel. Two factors that have prompted them to rationalise materials sourcing. Does this mean we can expect dormant stocks to be gradually exhausted? The industry doesn’t believe in this scenario.

Dormant stock to disappear?

“In developing a collection, [labels] actually start the materials production phase before the items are presented in showrooms, so that they can reach the stores quickly,” said Ducatillon. “However, items may be cancelled after being featured in showrooms. Entire lines are sometimes shelved. All this means that materials are being produced pointlessly,” she added.

Brabo echoed Ducatillon’s observation. According to him, leftovers are an inevitable by-product of the manufacturing process. “When [labels] place orders for certain volumes, there is always a small quantity left over. I need 300 metres but I order 500 metres from the supplier. The worst scenario is when the material remains unused. Labels then face the challenge of making use of their own left-over inventory, or finding buyers for surplus volumes,” said Brabo.

L’Atelier des Matières

“If there was less dormant stock, it would be excellent news for the whole industry. Yet, even if we reached this point, there is always the issue of fabric offcuts, even when patterns are shaped to optimise results,” said Rodriguez. As always, labels and fabric manufacturers need to adapt their model according to existing conditions.

Incentives and profitability

Ducatillon thinks that if sustainability hadn’t emerged as a pressing issue, there wouldn’t be the focus on dormant stocks there is now. “We are fighting to promote materials re-use with industry associations and the government,” said Ducatillon. “All existing incentives and subsidies are geared toward recycling. So we are campaigning for incentivising companies to tap the materials they have available. Dormant stocks are an industry blind spot, but they are increasingly an issue,” she added.


Recycling is also being incorporated within the business models of companies selling dormant stock. A year ago, Nona Source partnered with Weturn to create a first range of recycled textiles under the MT brand. Dormant stocks only account for a third of Atelier des Matières’s business. The rest is split between recycling of professional apparel and PPE, and the recycling and upcycling of fabric offcuts.

The existence of different business models raises the question of how profitable the dormant stock sector is. Atelier des Matières has some 15 employees, and is also thinking of expanding into home decoration by offering a range of recycled technical materials. Rodriguez said the company is “heading towards” profitability.

Adapta, which has six employees, is managing to balance the books, and is currently working to promote its products to labels and designers outside France. Nona Source has 17 employees, and told it too is balancing its books, and is preparing to launch a large leather range in April. In other words, there is every indication that the dormant stocks sector will be thriving for some time.

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