Why new denim just doesn't (stone)wash it - choose used to be cleaner and greener

This week's bog post is by Ed Bellars, who examines the environmental impact of the denim industry. 

'After wearing out a pair of £15 jeans in a matter of months, I made a promise to myself. From now on, I will only buy second-hand clothes, thrift vintage or clothes where I can be assured that they were made to last (and obviously are comfy!). At lot of my clothes at that point were from budget high street stores, low quality, but easy to buy; and unfortunately, also easy to throw out when torn or faded, which happened all too quickly. I haven’t always been able to stick to that promise, but I have at least stuck to my habit with jeans.

 'Denim is one of the most popular staples of anyone’s wardrobe. Although denim jeans began as work clothes for cowboys and manual labourers in the United States, now two billion pairs of jeans are produced globally every year.' 

 'However, all this cotton requires a significant volume of water, with around 4,000 to 8,000 litres required to grow the cotton for just a single pair of jeans. Even more water is needed to manufacture denim, and the chemicals used in this process can end up back in the water cycle, in the rivers which grow peoples’ food and the water they drink and bathe in. 

 'The majority of these two billion pairs of jeans are manufactured in Asia, in textile factories and mills in India and China. The pollution from the dyeing and finishing process ends up in rivers and waterways all over the continent.

' (If you’re looking for more information on the devastating impact that the textile industry’s pollution has on local people, the documentary ‘River Blue’ is a good place to start. [ https://youtu.be/pfPMeMGbrj4 ].)

'Some companies have been creating more ecologically friendly technologies to avoid excessive water use. For example, laser distressing can replace the use of pumice and chemicals for stone-wash and acid-wash denim, the remnants of which must be rinsed away with large quantities of water.

'However, the finishing processes for denim only amounts to a small fraction of the water used to create a pair of jeans. Not only that, these technologies make denim more expensive to produce, meaning cheaper and more polluting methods are still more popular.'

 'I think the simplest way to lower the environmental impact of your jeans is to buy them second-hand. Vintage styles and ‘pre-worn’ and ‘distressed’ jeans are becoming increasingly fashionable again; and yet many of these kinds of clothes are also being thrown away into landfill every year just because they are old.

 'A lot of times I find when trawling through charity shops I find that the jeans available are well known brands with a reputation for lasting a long time.'

Naturally as the kind of cheap jeans which get worn through in a matter of a year get thrown out with rips and tears in them, in my experience when picking up a pair of jeans second hand you can be assured of their quality. Even quality designer brands can occasionally be found.

 'So be sure to check out your local charity shop next time you need a new (or newish!) pair of jeans!'

 


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