If we talk about one fashion garment that never goes out of style and is universally acceptable in all cultures then it has to be denim jeans. Everyone loves wearing them, be it men, women, children or older people. Denim jeans are so comfortable, can be styled up or down according to the occasion and the best part is that they are widely available in innumerous styles, designs, washes and price points. A good pair of jeans can last you several decades, in fact it’s like wine, it gets better with time. It would not be wrong to say that denim jeans are a staple item of every modern wardrobe. When it comes to options in jeans the sky’s the limit, you can choose from high waist women jeans, low rise, cropped, flared, wide-legged or boot-cut.
Every year around 8 billion pairs of jeans are sold annually and by 2022 it number will reach a whopping 78 billion! Furthermore, the global denim jeans market collectively earns around 129.8 billion U.S dollars in retail alone and that figure is also increasing rapidly. The market value of denim fabric is going to touch 105 billion U.s dollars by the end of the year 2023! Why am I telling you all these figures, you ask? Well, if a fashion garment is being produced at such a massive scale it’s bound to have its own set of effects on the health of the workers making it and on the environment as well and denim jeans are no different.
This women’s clothing staple item does in fact have major effects on the environment and the health conditions of its workers, globally. The major denim producing companies in India and China are being pushed very hard to alter their methods of manufacturing jeans and make them friendlier for the environment as well as the labor making them. Fortunately, these big conglomerates of the denim world are acting sensibly by understanding its horrendous effects it can have on our beloved Earth and are striving hard to take steps that are eco-friendly as well as human-right compatible. Let’s look at how the mass production of denim is harming the environment and the workers. Also I will shed light on how we can switch to greener methods to produce denim.
Harmful Effects of the Denim Production on Environment and Workers
As I mentioned earlier, mass denim production takes its toll on the health of the worker class that is producing it day in and day out so that the demand and supply could meet. All kinds of chemicals, dyes, bleaching agents and other dangerous gasses come in contact with the workers making the denim jeans in various stages of production. It has been commonly noticed that many of the workers over the years develop tuberculosis or silicosis- both diseases are related to lungs and breathing. These conditions develop in workers due to the corrosive effects of sandblasting- a process that gives the denim jeans the perfect worn-out and ragged look.
Talking about the harmful effects on the environment, the first thing is to meet the massive demand for cotton. Cotton is a crop that itself demands a lot of water and care throughout its harvest. Millions of tons of water is required in order for it to grow properly and the water intake increases as the quality of the cotton increases. Additionally, once a farmland has been used to cultivate cotton for one season, it has to be given a rest of at least the next 6-8 months so that it can regain its fertilization, which is a lot of land being wasted. Once denim jeans go into production, the amount of chemicals and toxins emitted in the air throughout the whole processing is another story altogether!
Sustainable/Greener Methods to Produce Denim Jeans
First thing that I would like to put out there is that it’s not only the job of the manufacturers to make the environment better but the final customers are and should be equally responsible. The manufacturers produce the products for customers, so if they are switching to greener methods the customers must also adjust with the new quality and price points in order for the producers to take the necessary steps to make this world a better place for our posterity! With that said, let’s see how we can make denim jeans more eco-friendly.
1. Use Cotton Made Organically
The first step for greener denim jeans production must start from the very beginning, that is cotton production. The cotton produced to make jeans should be grown using materials and methods that have a very less impact on the atmosphere. These methods increase the fertility of the soil, uses less water supply for the growth, and lessens the dependency of pesticides and insecticides and aids in building a biologically diverse agriculture. With newer methods and technology, 100% organic cotton is being used that requires no bleaching and friendly enzymes are used to finish the look and dry techniques are used to conserve water.
2. Dry Techniques are the First Step towards Sustainability
We all love denim for its beautiful feel and comfort, in order to achieve that wet processing is used but that means a ton of water! Dry techniques are the greener version of the wet processing that uses various methods like whiskering, scraping, distressing and grinding to achieve the desired look. Laser dry treatment is another way to change the surface color of the denim but obviously it’s very expensive.
3. Vegetable Dyes
One of the most chemically heavy parts of the denim jeans production is the dyeing. But in the greener methods, the chemicals dyes are switched with vegetable dyes to give denim its famous indigo color.
4. Recycled Materials
In Sweden, denim jeans are being produced by using unused, discarded materials and it has effectively saved 50 million tons of water! Another method used plastic bottles to make jeans which is perfect as plastic waste is another major issue the world is dealing with, right now!
In the end, I would strongly encourage and urge denim manufacturers around the world to take essential steps to ensure you take good care of Mother Nature and its valuable resources for a better future.