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Denim's deadly price tag

Denim's deadly price tag

Everyone’s ultimate wardrobe staple, denim, is one of the worst offenders when it comes to sustainable fashion. It takes an astonishing 1,800 gallons of water to grow enough cotton to make just one pair of jeans. Whether you love your denim dark and indigo, or worn in and distressed, multiple poisonous chemicals are added to achieve to get the look, and the polluted remanence of this process is pumped back into rivers. Turns out your favourite pair of jeans have contributed to 800,000 tonnes of supply chain waste, using 5 ½ years worth of drinking water and contaminating 70% of Asia’s rivers. Wait, what??

Denim’s sins start right at the beginning of the process. In addition to the gallons of water it takes to grow enough to make one pair, 85% of that water used goes in to the dying process, which then leads to water pollution. It is estimated that 20% of the world’s water pollution is from garment production, of which denim is heavily responsible. Not to mention the impact production and transportation has on air quality.

What’s being done?

There are ripples of change, and denim mega-brand, Levi, has been working on reducing the impact of its production. The Better Cotton Initiative was launched in 2010 and as a founding member, Levi is committed to using 100% sustainable cotton by 2020. The initiative aims to educate farmers on sustainable practices and reduce the use of harmful chemicals. Levi haven’t stopped there, the water<less innovations campaign also strives to use less water in the production. To date, they’ve saved more than two billion litres of water and have recycled 200 million litres.

Clothing brand, Reformation was founded on sustainable practices and just one pair of their jeans saves 1,468 gallons compared to traditional methods, and uses 100% recycled materials.

Mostly recently, C&A (remember them?) launched the world’s first gold level cradle to cradle (C2C) jeans. Not only that, but they’ve also released a toolkit to inform other brands how it is done. The jeans are made from organic cotton and coloured with dye derived from plant waste. C&A’s Global Chief Sustainability Officer, Jeffrey Hogue, pointed out how important it is to share these practices. He said, "If we share it with the world and encourage other brands to come down this path, it will make a difference in how these garments are produced and make a positive impact on the environment.”

There is so much work to be done, especially when it comes to denim. But, with brands joining forces and paving sustainable paths, the future of denim is less tainted and a pair of trusty blues doesn’t have to come with an extortionate environmental price tag.

Viki Taylor

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