Dirty Denim

We probably all own a pair, or two… or three, it is a staple of the Western fashion closet, denim! The denim industry is one of the best selling fashion product, it is supposed to be worth over 87 million by 2023. But denim is a pretty dirty industry, from what it is made of to how it is made. We love wearing it but we should take a look at what is actually in our closets.

Denim is mostly made from cotton, one of the thirstiest crops, it takes 1,800 gallons of water to grow enough cotton to make one pair of jeans. Not even considering how much water it takes to dye and wash it to make it that fabulous worn in blue, in total it is  9,982 gallons of water for a pair of jeans. That is per a pair of jeans, not an entire style run, one jean. That is like 10 barrels of beer per jean. (Jeans? What is the single of a pair?)

indigo dye water pollution

Besides water usage denim has a notoriously shady past. Only in the past few years has sandblasting become banned by certain countries and companies. Sandblasting is like it sounds, it blasts sand on the denim to give the denim its distressed look. The issue is that it causes extreme harm to the workers. The sand damages their eyes and lungs, developing a lung disease in garment workers called silicosis.

Then there is they dye runoff and water waste, it should be treated by the manufacturer to then be safely disposed of, but not everything is always so cut in dry in a supply chain. The toxic water waste from the dyeing and bleaching process is sometimes secretly dumped into the rivers. In China and India you can predict next season’s colour by the colour of the river.

Even when the jeans are made, denim is such a popular product most fashion houses develop at least one style per season, and if it doesn’t sell you can find that denim in landfills. As sustainability has become more of a focus these issues in the supply chain have come to light and some brands are doing something about it.

Other Options

So denim isn’t great but it is a building block in any wardrobe what can you do about it? There are a few brands popping up that have tackled some of these problems head-on.

There are a few brands creating more sustainable denim using less water, like Levi’s waterless jeans. Or going a little bit further using organic cotton, recycled water, and natural dyes, like G Star Raw, Outland denim, and MUD jeans (MUD jeans also encourages customers to recycle their denim for 10%, and then uses the recycled denim to create jeans!). Redone and MUD jeans repurpose old jeans to new styles to reduce waste. There are a few other brands to check out like Amour Vert, Nobody Denim and DL1961 they have amazing sustainable practices and are locally made. Then there are brands like 3x1 denim or if you are in Melbourne, Dejour jeans, that creates bespoke and made to measure jeans, I like this as a sustainable option since it creates well-made jeans that fit, so you don’t throw them out!

Never forget thrift shopping is an awesome option, I have gotten the best boyfriend jeans from second-hand stores. In 2018 I think there are a few options to find your new pair of favourite jeans!