Your guide to natural and organic living

Think about: your jeans

March 26, 2012


Like most people I’ve worn jeans throughout my life. I’m now 27 so I’ve probably worn some sort of denim for 25 of these years. However, this year I’ve decided not to buy any more brand new jeans.

“My cotton jeans weigh 600g. Cotton has a footprint of around 7kg for CO2e kilo. On top of that there’s dying, cutting, sewing and an allowance for waste fabric, buckles, zips, transport and so on, which probably takes the total to about 6kg per pair – equivalent to an 8-mile drive in an average car.”

Mike Berners-Lee, How Bad Are Bananas?

Manufacturing a pair of  jeans

  • An average of 680g of cotton are needed to make one pair of jeans and this 680g of cotton needs 6819 litres of water to grow
  • 454g of pesticide is needed to provide enough cotton harvest for one pair of jeans
  • The cotton is harvested, then spun and woven into denim
  • The denim then needs to be dipped into dye (often made from coal or oil) twelve or more times
  • ‘Faded’ jeans require chemicals such as potassium permanganate to strip the dye back
  • ‘Worn’ jeans have chemicals sprayed on to create stains, laser guns are used to create folds and wear marks and edges are sanded
  • ‘Stone wash’ jeans are placed in giant washing machines with rocks (yes really!) and washed repeatedly
  • Each pair of finished jeans is then soaked in fabric conditioner, washed and rewashed
  • The jeans are then packed and shipped or air freighted from the other side of the world to us

Water usage

As you can see from the process above, jeans are incredibly water intensive from cropping to manufacture.

An embedded water study, ‘The water footprint of cotton consumption‘, documented that jeans use up to 10,850 litres of water in cotton.

The water footprint of cotton consumption

What are the alternatives?

The answer isn’t to stop wearing  jeans or any other clothing containing cotton completely. But if you do buy jeans, have a look at the following to help you reduce your impact on the environment…

Avoid sandblasted

Reduce the amount of ‘worn’ or ‘sandblasted’ denim you buy. These processes use alot of energy, chemicals and water and can affect the health of factory workers.

The Clean Clothes Campaign aims to improve working conditions in the global garment industry. You can find a list of companies who have banned sandblasting from their production processes on the Clean Clothes website.

Buy second hand

Instead of buying a brand new pair of jeans, find a second hand pair.

Organic Cotton

Look for jeans made from organic cotton. Organic cotton is grown without the use of synthetic chemicals, fertilisers or pesticides and uses less water than conventionally grown cotton.

Alterative materials

Buy clothing made from less water hungry, higher yielding crops such as hemp or bamboo.

Wear your jeans out

Wear your jeans until they fall apart in order to get the most out of them. If they start looking tired, save them for slouchy days rather than throwing them out.

Garment care

60-80% of a garments carbon footprint comes from the way you wash and dry it. Denim is dense cotton and can take a while to dry, so line dry your jeans rather than using a tumble dryer to reduce energy usage.

Naturally dyed

Everyone has had blue knees and hands from their new jeans. This is residual dye left over from manufacturing – a small percentage of which can be absorbed into your skin. Look for naturally dyed jeans free from chrome, copper, zinc, formaldehyde and dioxins.

Buy jeans to last

Look for a really good quality pair of jeans that will last a long time. I love the look of Howies jeans; made from 99+% organic cotton, no sandblasting or fading in sight and built to last.

Information Sources

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