Jeans have enjoyed a long and varied history. Today they are considered casual attire and the skinny and ripped trend seems to dominate the catwalk. However, once upon a time, durable denims were the staple choice of workmen across the western world.
Jean companies today strive to replicate this ‘authentic’ look. The process of pre-fading, dyeing and even tearing denim has destroyed the enduring quality of jeans.
We reveal five alarming facts about the Jean industry:
1. Deadly Denim
Ever wondered how your Jeans get their pre-worn look? Sand particles are used to blast jeans with a jet of air. Campaigners brought our attention to this deadly practice which can cause lung silicosis, if workers fail to receive adequate safety measures.
Since the campaign, many high street retailers have banned sandblasting in their production cycle. These include M&S, Arcadia, Primark, New Look, H&M and Calvin Klein.
2. Alarming Water consumption
It takes around 11,000 litres of water to make a single pair of jeans. The production process includes growing cotton and wet processing such as dyeing, treating and washing the fabric which all proves thirsty work.
Levi’s, the pioneers of the pre-faded blue design, have reacted to criticism and launched Water
3. The Problem with Cotton
As discussed above, cotton requires a lot of water to grow. However, the problem with cotton is not restricted just to the issue of water consumption. Only 2.4% of agriculture land is planted with cotton. However, it accounts for 11% of global pesticide sales. These pesticides which are used to kill cotton pests can also seriously damage farmers who come into contact with them. Ethical Fashion Forum (http://www.ethicalfashionforum.com/the-issues/pesticides) states that between 1 and 3% of agriculture farmers suffer from acute pesticide poisoning. This figure translates into between 25 million and 77 million farmers worldwide. Symptoms of the poisoning range from vomiting to death.
These appalling figures highlight the necessity of naturally grown cotton. Unfortunately, the sale of fair trade cotton dropped by 38% in 2015. Ethical Consumer’s research into Jean retailers confirms this decline as none of the brands in our shopping guide (http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/buyersguides/clothing/jeans.aspx) use fair trade cotton to produce their jeans.
While fair trade cotton currently appears to be in decline, the growth in use of GM and toxic-free organic cotton keeps us optimistic. For example, Jean brand, Nudie have achieved its target to use 100% organic cotton in its denim.
4. Lagging behind
Our recent research into Jean retailers (http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/buyersguides/clothing/jeans.aspx) confirms that Guess and Diesel, two of the most popular Jean companies, have received shockingly low results in our ethical shopping guide.
Many clothing companies have accepted new initiatives to improve supply chains and have committed to the use of more sustainable materials. However, both Guess and Diesel have kept quiet about supporting new efforts to make a fairer fashion industry that respects its workers and the environment.
5. Overseas production
Clothing production in the UK plummeted in the 1990s as financially focused companies outsourced production overseas to sweatshops with low wages and poor working conditions.
Prior to this transition, Cardigan in Wales, was recognised as a leading Jeans manufacturer. Dewhirst produced Jeans for a number of companies such as M&S. However, when M&S jumped on the immoral bandwagon and moved production to Morocco, the factory was left derelict.
We welcome an exciting new brand, Hiut Jeans, which has brought Jeans production back to Britain and specifically back to Cardigan. This company, which ranks in our top 5 ethical Jean retailers, uses organic cotton and prides itself to ‘make the best jeans we can and not the most jeans we can.”
These 5 facts reveal that some of the most recognised Jean retailers on the high street are failing their workers, consumers and the planet.
For ways in which you can prolong the life of your favourite pair of jeans, head to the Ethical Consumer website for our piece on ‘Slow Jeans’.
This post was written by Georgina Rawes of Ethical Consumer magazine