I recently read a statistic that stated: “It is thought that approximately 70 million pairs of jeans are sold in the UK alone every year”. This gobsmacking fact led me, as procrastination often does, down a rabbit hole of Google searches and articles, delving into the ugly reality of denim production. At some point on this journey, and with a desire to start making more conscious fashion decisions, I began reading about sustainability.
Fast fashion is one of the key reasons for humanity’s gross environmental impact, and much to my dismay, I learned that the production of denim specifically is actually one of the worst offenders. The most pressing issue is the fact that the extraction of cotton is by far one of the largest contributing factors towards water wastage and water pollution in the world. It is said that in order to create just one kilogram of cotton (roughly the amount needed for a pair of jeans), a jaw-dropping 10,000-20,000 litres of water is required. Despite all of this, I am, just as much as everyone else, victim to the powerful allure of fast fashion.
It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by the social and environmental issues at hand. It is virtually impossible to become fully sustainable in every aspect of our lives, but that shouldn’t stop us from making small steps in the right direction and, most importantly, educating ourselves.
A question that arises often is that which concerns the elevated prices of environmentally-friendly fashion. This tends to be true in most cases and will continue to be an inevitable reality until ethical practices become more commonplace. Having said that, considering the amount of money we probably spend on fast fashion every year, a pair of sustainable jeans wouldn’t even come close to denting that figure.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how dim it may look at the moment. The denim industry is now teeming with innovators, and slowly, we’re seeing an emergence of forward-thinking brands that are committed to sustainable practices, in the attempt to marry ethics and quality. As always, money talks, and demand from an increasingly socially aware consumer has also led to a rise in brands that are now dedicated to cleaning up the denim industry’s bad rep.
London-based denim label Saltspin use BCI cotton (a global non-profit initiative that standardises cotton farming and production), factories that are REACH certified (accredited by Intertek) and OEKO-TEX certified (a worldwide independent testing and certification system) to ensure that both people and the environment are considered in the manufacturing process. As well as using natural dyes, Saltspin has now introduced a laser-washing technique which uses 60% fewer chemicals, as well as less energy and zero water.
E.L.V. Denim (an acronym for East London Vintage) was established by London-based stylist Anna Foster, and is now available to purchase online at Selfridges and Net-a-Porter. It is a zero-waste denim brand that takes old, discarded jeans and transforms them into new styles (both ready to wear or made-to-measure).
Dutch denim brand MUD Jeans started out as an innovative new concept: the option to “lease” a pair of jeans. After leasing your jeans for 12 months, you can decide to swap them for a new pair or keep them. The old ones are recycled into new items, saving water, resources and waste. Their 100% Peta-approved vegan jeans use GOTS-certified (Global Organic Textile Standard) organic cotton and ensure workers are paid fair wages.
Finally, a brand many of you may actually know, G-Star Raw is making moves to becoming more sustainable throughout their entire range. Their collection of recyclable denim is made with upcycled fabrics from old jeans, and many of their collections now feature several key environmentally-friendly elements, such as buttons without toxic chemicals, air-drying technology to save energy, and 100% organic cotton.
Weekday is actually one of my personal favourite streetwear brands, and also happens to be where I’ve purchased my last three pairs of jeans, quickly becoming my go-to shop for all denim purchases (yup, it’s overtaken old favie, Topshop).
Weekday has a comprehensive sustainability commitment and places an emphasis on partnering with suppliers that are constantly striving towards fair and sustainable production. All 3 pairs of my jeans from Weekday are made of organic cotton.
- A great way to reduce your environmental impact is simply by shopping from thrift or second-hand stores.
- Wash your jeans less often (within reason), and try and wash them with colder water if you’re keen on saving energy.
- Donate your jeans once you’re done with them. Don’t throw them away, but rather, look to charity shops and resale sites like eBay and Depop.