Style

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 immortalized 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 favor 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 5,283 gallons of water to produce 2.2 lbs 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 2.6 billion gallons of water) by this year.

Water is not the only concern. Labor 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 fueled by the collapse of Rana Plaza, a garment factory in Bangladesh, where over 1 000 workers were killed and many more injured.

Even more so, third party supplier factories to Levi’s have recently been implicated in an ongoing gender-based violence and harassment scandal in Lesotho. And we know how slavery and exploitation is inseparable from the history of cotton production.

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

Your favorite ethical brands in the United States

1. Boyish Jeans: California native Jordan Nodarse founded this brand inspired by women who often call their style “Boyish”. All items are made exclusively from recycled fabrics and materials, and the companies commitment to sustainability emphasizes the importance of working with ethical factories.

2. Reformation: This women’s clothing brand is all about transparency when it comes to their sustainable and ethical practices. They’ve published their factory list so consumers can learn more about the production process behind their purchases.

3. DL1961: This family owned company stands out amongst other denim brands. They are committed to providing high quality, sustainable denim for the whole family, and what’s more impressive is that everything is made in-house. They even spin their own yarn from eco-friendly fibers.  

4. Outerknown: In 2015, pro surfer Kelly Slater and creative director John Moore set out to change the fashion industry. Their vision was a men and women’s clothing brand rooted in sustainable production. Not only are they eco-friendly, but their devotion to ethical practices deserves major recognition, as they are the first brand to pursue a Fair Labor Association accreditation before ever shipping a product.

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 immortalized 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 favor 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 5,283 gallons of water to produce 2.2 lbs 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 2.6 billion gallons of water) by this year.

Water is not the only concern. Labor 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 fueled by the collapse of Rana Plaza, a garment factory in Bangladesh, where over 1 000 workers were killed and many more injured.

Even more so, third party supplier factories to Levi’s have recently been implicated in an ongoing gender-based violence and harassment scandal in Lesotho. And we know how slavery and exploitation is inseparable from the history of cotton production.

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

Your favorite ethical brands in the United States

1. Boyish Jeans: California native Jordan Nodarse founded this brand inspired by women who often call their style “Boyish”. All items are made exclusively from recycled fabrics and materials, and the companies commitment to sustainability emphasizes the importance of working with ethical factories.

2. Reformation: This women’s clothing brand is all about transparency when it comes to their sustainable and ethical practices. They’ve published their factory list so consumers can learn more about the production process behind their purchases.

3. DL1961: This family owned company stands out amongst other denim brands. They are committed to providing high quality, sustainable denim for the whole family, and what’s more impressive is that everything is made in-house. They even spin their own yarn from eco-friendly fibers.  

4. Outerknown: In 2015, pro surfer Kelly Slater and creative director John Moore set out to change the fashion industry. Their vision was a men and women’s clothing brand rooted in sustainable production. Not only are they eco-friendly, but their devotion to ethical practices deserves major recognition, as they are the first brand to pursue a Fair Labor Association accreditation before ever shipping a product.

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