For starters, 2billion pairs of jeans are made every year. They use 2million tonnes of chemicals in the process plus 2,630 litres of water – per individual pair of jeans – and approximately 1.4million tonnes of raw cotton. You already know that cotton is a thirsty, chemical-reliant crop… and jeans are made out of cotton… Add on chemical-laden synthetic dyes, a huge washing and rinsing (water-wasting) cycle and finishing process using more chemicals (acid-wash), stones (pumice stones to be mined and quarried for stone-washing) and finishing (like sanding to create holes and faded patches) which is often done by hand by workers without masks in factories that want to make as many pairs as cheaply as possible, exploiting workers health and rights in the process.
Where would we be without our faithful denim jeans? They are the item that is the hardest to shop for but when we find The One, they improve our mood and make any outfit look cool. Yves Saint Laurent said: “I wish I had invented blue jeans: They have expression, modesty, sex appeal, simplicity.” For something invented for 12th Century sailors, jeans have left a major impact although the “simplicity” part is tricky… Jeans may have a straight-forward look but the processes that go into making them are anything but basic and this is what’s killing the planet.
Oh and did you know about the cyanide?
You’re careful about shopping for clean skincare – what goes on your skin goes into your skin, right? – but what about the jeans that rub up against your legs? 99.9% of all denim is dyed with synthetic indigo which includes, yep, cyanide, formaldehyde and sometimes aniline – all of which are potentially harmful to human health (with aniline “very toxic” to aquatic life, according to the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.) There’s a textile industry “joke” that if you want to know what colours are trending next season, just look at the colour of the rivers in China. Reports have shown that the dye residue often ends up in waterways (turning the rivers blue) or on the skin (and in the lungs) of factory workers. And embedded in the denim you could be wearing right now.
Washing your jeans to simply rinse out the chemicals is not the answer. There is a rising tide of members of the No Wash Club, who pledge not to wash their jeans for six months, as championed by Hiut denim (as worn by Meghan Markle). Freezing and airing your denim is allowed with the overall aim to conserve water – and stop chemical run off into rivers – and to make your jeans last longer, meaning you need to buy fewer pairs.