Nobody wants to be responsible for suffering or environmental destruction, and least of all passionate denim fans.
However, there’s no denying it. In the past, denim has been associated with some distressing environmental and human rights issues. For example, in 2013 the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed due to poor safety practices, killing over 1,000 people. Many of those workers were toiling away manufacturing denim items for western retailers.
But it’s not all about famous disasters like Rana Plaza. Jeans take a toll on workers every day of the year in locations like China, where sandblasting takes place without any breathing apparatus, while Indian factories regularly experience deadly fires. In locations like Rana Plaza, denim is just another commodity to be processed via mass production techniques. The people who produce it and the way they are treated often takes a back seat to the need to generate profit.
The Environmental Cost of Stone Washed Jeans
The cost of mass produced jeans isn’t limited to the exploitation of workers in developing nations. The way denim is produced can also have serious environmental consequences.
There are the pesticides used to grow the cotton used in jeans. Then, the yarn is sized with caustic soda which is released into watercourses, killing fish. To create stone-washed jeans, the denim is “blasted” with toxic substances like silica or dyed with potassium permanganate. And, above all, vast amounts of precious water are used at every stage.
Given all of those environmental problems, even if you take the time to source jeans that haven’t been tainted by exploiting workers, that doesn’t necessarily mean you are purchasing ethical denim.
To really qualify as “ethical”, jeans manufacturers would need to ensure that their factories are well-run, their workforce is well-paid and the materials they use do not require toxic substances during their processing. Could this ever become a reality? If you care about jeans, people and the earth, it’s a vital question.
Can we Choose to Consume Ethical Denim?
One of the biggest problems is that consumers have become used to the availability of treated jeans. Whether they have been sandblasted to create a faded look, stone-washed or dyed to different colors, these processes have costs that make sourcing ethical denim almost unworkable. It is possible to buy jeans that are produced according to Fair Trade principles and high environmental standards, but these always come with a hefty price tag.
At Jeanuine, we take a different approach. We are fanatical about authentic raw denim, but we also care about human life and the environment. We think there’s a middle way. In fact, we know there is, because our denim is sourced from small-scale artisan producers who are well-paid and adhere to rigorous environmental standards. The jeans we make are then priced at a level that ordinary jeans lovers can afford.
No system is perfect, but we are always trying to produce ethical denim. It’s an ongoing process, but it’s essential to try.