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How sustainable is denim?

How sustainable is denim?

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Although denim has had a serious impact on the environment, there are a few brands committed to producing it sustainably.

Although denim has had a serious impact on the environment, there are a few brands committed to producing it sustainably.

How sustainable is denim?
Apparently we love the blues so much that according to an article series published in Fashion Revolution about the future of the fabric, we’ll buy up to four pairs a year. And that’s just if we’re the average consumer.

Demand has created a denim industry that was worth $90 billion in 2019 and is expected to go up by another 15 billion by 2023, according to Statista.com. Besides inspiring Lana Del Rey to write “Blue Jeans” and Daniel Caesar to sing about it in “Japanese Denim, after doing a quick Google search I discovered that the fabric has been immortalised in at least 50 pop songs.

It will be interesting to see if its appeal and buying patterns change this year. Didn’t most of us ignore our jeans in favour of sweatpants during lockdown? If the work-from-home trend hasn’t influenced the sale of jeans, we know the sustainability movement has, as we all pay closer attention to what it takes to get those “will last me all my life, oh yes” blue jeans on our bodies.

Farm to factory

First up we need to look at how cotton is grown. A WWF article says that “conventional production practices for cotton involve the application of substantial fertilisers and pesticides.” These pesticides not only “threaten the quality of soil and water, as well as the health of biodiversity in and downstream from the fields,” but could affect the health of workers who work with the material as well as you, the wearer.

The Washington Post exposed “the dirty secret about your clothes” and shared that the chemical dyes used to colour your jeans “can include compounds” that “range from chlorine bleach to known carcinogens such as arylamines”, and are also potentially cancerous. On top of that, “if they aren’t treated properly, they can pollute the water supply.”

To boot, WWF adds that it takes 20 000 litres of water to produce 1kg of cotton – enough to make one T-shirt and one pair of jeans.

Factory to fashion outlet

Tshepo Mohlala, better known as Tshepo the Jeanmaker, whose denim has made it into the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle’s wardrobe, is well aware of the cost of the material to the planet. He says he pays special consideration to where their fabric, yarns and materials come from in order to ensure accountability and transparency.

They’ve recently started using a new label that's made from recycled pineapple skins and his factory reuses the water in the dyeing process so it's not wasted or fed through rivers. “The same water can be used for up to five different dyeing cycles and gets cleaned and reused to reduce water usage and waste,” he says.

Global denim brands like Levi’s and Gap have also announced new ways of producing clothing by pledging to have 80% of all their products made using their waterless technique (that reduces up to 96 percent of the water normally used in denim finishing and conserving 10 billion litres of water) by this year.

Water is not the only concern. Labour practices have also been called into question as more and more people ask: “Who made my clothes”? The movement began as a campaign started by two women, Orsola de Castro and Carry Somers in the UK in 2013. The challenge to stop ignoring workers’ rights was fuelled by the collapse of Rana Plaza, a garment factory in Bangladesh, where over 1 000 workers were killed and many more injured.

Though denim has had a serious impact on the environment, there are a few brands committed to changing its legacy.

Your favourite ethical brands in the UK

1. Lindex: Although Lindex does not exclusively stock denim, their products generally stay true to their ethos of sustainability. Their denim products promote the use of organic cotton and recycled polyester. Their products are manufactured with the best water and energy saving processes and one of the cleanest dyeing processes out there.

2. MUD Jeans: This is a brand based in the Netherlands with stockists in the UK. Their mission is to create “circular” fashion where everything is recycled or upcycled. They even have a “Lease a jeans” model where you can lease a pair of jeans instead of buying them. This brand’s focus is on recycling, fair production practices and less harmful chemicals used in their products.

3. Boyish: These jeans are designed in Los Angeles but are available in the UK. BOYISH uses ethical and sustainable practices when developing and manufacturing their products. Their denim uses one third the amount of water of traditional jeans and contains BCI certified cotton. They also recycle all of their cutting waste, are committed to using recycled materials for their hangtags, hardware and labels, and every BOYISH purchase supports their commitment to 1% For the Planet.

4. Lucy and Yak: A smaller startup brand compared to the above brands, this is a small team based in the UK. This brand is working hard to use renewable energy in their factories, pay their employees above the calculated living wage, use recycled materials not only in their wearables but in their shipping materials, thank you cards and the material bags that your purchases come in. As an added bonus, they also have a “Zero Waste Lifestyle” product category on their website for you to buy your zero waste toiletries at the same time!

Apparently we love the blues so much that according to an article series published in Fashion Revolution about the future of the fabric, we’ll buy up to four pairs a year. And that’s just if we’re the average consumer.

Demand has created a denim industry that was worth $90 billion in 2019 and is expected to go up by another 15 billion by 2023, according to Statista.com. Besides inspiring Lana Del Rey to write “Blue Jeans” and Daniel Caesar to sing about it in “Japanese Denim, after doing a quick Google search I discovered that the fabric has been immortalised in at least 50 pop songs.

It will be interesting to see if its appeal and buying patterns change this year. Didn’t most of us ignore our jeans in favour of sweatpants during lockdown? If the work-from-home trend hasn’t influenced the sale of jeans, we know the sustainability movement has, as we all pay closer attention to what it takes to get those “will last me all my life, oh yes” blue jeans on our bodies.

Farm to factory

First up we need to look at how cotton is grown. A WWF article says that “conventional production practices for cotton involve the application of substantial fertilisers and pesticides.” These pesticides not only “threaten the quality of soil and water, as well as the health of biodiversity in and downstream from the fields,” but could affect the health of workers who work with the material as well as you, the wearer.

The Washington Post exposed “the dirty secret about your clothes” and shared that the chemical dyes used to colour your jeans “can include compounds” that “range from chlorine bleach to known carcinogens such as arylamines”, and are also potentially cancerous. On top of that, “if they aren’t treated properly, they can pollute the water supply.”

To boot, WWF adds that it takes 20 000 litres of water to produce 1kg of cotton – enough to make one T-shirt and one pair of jeans.

Factory to fashion outlet

Tshepo Mohlala, better known as Tshepo the Jeanmaker, whose denim has made it into the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle’s wardrobe, is well aware of the cost of the material to the planet. He says he pays special consideration to where their fabric, yarns and materials come from in order to ensure accountability and transparency.

They’ve recently started using a new label that's made from recycled pineapple skins and his factory reuses the water in the dyeing process so it's not wasted or fed through rivers. “The same water can be used for up to five different dyeing cycles and gets cleaned and reused to reduce water usage and waste,” he says.

Global denim brands like Levi’s and Gap have also announced new ways of producing clothing by pledging to have 80% of all their products made using their waterless technique (that reduces up to 96 percent of the water normally used in denim finishing and conserving 10 billion litres of water) by this year.

Water is not the only concern. Labour practices have also been called into question as more and more people ask: “Who made my clothes”? The movement began as a campaign started by two women, Orsola de Castro and Carry Somers in the UK in 2013. The challenge to stop ignoring workers’ rights was fuelled by the collapse of Rana Plaza, a garment factory in Bangladesh, where over 1 000 workers were killed and many more injured.

Though denim has had a serious impact on the environment, there are a few brands committed to changing its legacy.

Your favourite ethical brands in the UK

1. Lindex: Although Lindex does not exclusively stock denim, their products generally stay true to their ethos of sustainability. Their denim products promote the use of organic cotton and recycled polyester. Their products are manufactured with the best water and energy saving processes and one of the cleanest dyeing processes out there.

2. MUD Jeans: This is a brand based in the Netherlands with stockists in the UK. Their mission is to create “circular” fashion where everything is recycled or upcycled. They even have a “Lease a jeans” model where you can lease a pair of jeans instead of buying them. This brand’s focus is on recycling, fair production practices and less harmful chemicals used in their products.

3. Boyish: These jeans are designed in Los Angeles but are available in the UK. BOYISH uses ethical and sustainable practices when developing and manufacturing their products. Their denim uses one third the amount of water of traditional jeans and contains BCI certified cotton. They also recycle all of their cutting waste, are committed to using recycled materials for their hangtags, hardware and labels, and every BOYISH purchase supports their commitment to 1% For the Planet.

4. Lucy and Yak: A smaller startup brand compared to the above brands, this is a small team based in the UK. This brand is working hard to use renewable energy in their factories, pay their employees above the calculated living wage, use recycled materials not only in their wearables but in their shipping materials, thank you cards and the material bags that your purchases come in. As an added bonus, they also have a “Zero Waste Lifestyle” product category on their website for you to buy your zero waste toiletries at the same time!

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