Fashion stories

The dirt on your denim

Photo by Mica Asato on Pexels.com

Who doesn’t love jeans? Chances are you probably own more than one pair. Would you love them as much if you knew what damage they caused before landing in your shopping bag?

Levi’s conducted a study into the environmental impact of making a pair of their famous 501s. The results? Producing just one pair of jeans requires almost 3500 liters of water and 400 mega joules of energy, and emits 32 kilograms of carbon dioxide. That’s the equivalent to running a garden hose for 106 minutes, driving 125 kilometers and powering a computer for 556 hours. 

What makes the process of making jeans so poisonous to people and planet? One of the most popular types of jeans today is the distressed one. To get that look, denim is subjected to several chemical-intensive washes. Campaigners from Greenpeace tested the outflows near dyeing and finishing facilities in the top denim producing towns in Asia and found five heavy metals (cadmium, chromium, mercury, lead and copper) in 17 out of 21 water and sediment samples taken from Xintang, near a production site. Campaigners in China also discovered heavy metals  in the rivers, including manganese, associated with brain damage.

Luckily, today there are alternatives available. Us consumers can vote with our wallet and no longer buy from shops that do not source or produce sustainable jeans.

A Spanish sustainability & innovation company called Jeanologia has been working on more sustainable ways of making jeans since 2003 and has developed several new techniques. Today, laser technology can give a pair of jeans a worn look instead of sandblasting or hand sanding which can be lethal or detrimental to workers and the environment. They use a special ozone treatment to fade down the color of a jean instead of using chemicals like bleach and others . In 2011, they unveiled a technology that uses air (nanobubbles) instead of water to dye jeans and give them properties like softness and resistance to wrinkles. The company is expanding, working on the technology for knits, wool, cottons and blends.

If you want to choose a sustainable pair of jeans next time you need one, here’s a list of cool brands:

Sustainable denim brands

People Tree denim comes in a non-stretch 100% organic cotton- plus, a GOTS certified supplier has been used to ensure the dyeing and washing is done in a sustainable way.

MUD jeans is a “circular” denim brand – recycling and upcycling are important aspects of its business model. Most MUD jeans are made from “post-consumer” pieces that – instead of going to waste — have been repurposed to make new pairs. In the last three years, the brand says it has saved 300 million litres of water, avoided 700,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide and saved approximately 12,000 pairs of jeans from landfill and incineration. They also have a lease-a-jeans programme that might be interesting for you if you like to change your look every year.

Levi’s has embarked on a series of collaborations and initiatives linked to sustainability – including its most recent Wellthread collection. It is the company’s most eco-friendly capsule to date, and is modelled on four main principles: materials, people, environment and process. “It puts a premium on less water, fewer chemicals, 100 per cent recyclability and fair labour,” says the brand. Levi’s ongoing Water<Less initiative includes over 20 water-reducing techniques which, according to a 2019 report by the company, meant that 3 billion litres of water was saved, and a further 1.5 billion litres recycled.

Kings of Indigo uses natural fibers such as organic cotton, linen and hemp. With every collection, they explore new innovations to shift our focus to recycled and man-made fibers such as recycled polyester, recycled wool, TENCEL™. They work with the Environmental Impact Measuring System (EIM) and in all of their laundries, the water is cleaned and purified before being put back into natural water flows. They also have advanced policies in place on the social side, for transport and waste.

Nudie Jeans gets a ‘Great’ rating on the Good On You app. This Swedish company cherishes the well-worn and mended jeans. Jeans that become a part of ourselves when worn a long time – a second skin. A pair of dry denim jeans is the materialized version of their values: No extra treatment or washes. Made with 100% organic cotton. They also recylce used Nudie jeans and turn them into new ones.


 

Kings of Indigo uses natural fibers such as organic cotton, linen and hemp. With every collection, they explore new innovations to shift our focus to recycled and man-made fibers such as recycled polyester, recycled wool, TENCEL™. They work with the Environmental Impact Measuring System (EIM) and in all of their laundries, the water is cleaned and purified before being put back into natural water flows. They also have advanced policies in place on the social side, for transport and waste.

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