We love our jeans. So much so that the average American consumer buying four pairs a year. In our family, we are always looking for jeans on sale to be thrifty. But do we fully understand the real environmental cost of our next pair of jeans?
Most people have never heard of Xintang province in China, but that is most likely where your jeans came from. An astounding 300 million pairs of jeans are made there every year. As a result the province’s rivers have a toxic mix of chemicals and dyes running through them. (photo – RiverBlue)
As is shown in the documentary “The RiverBlue: Can Fashion Save the Planet,” the environmental damage is not isolated to Xintang Province. The environmental cost spreads across China, Bangladesh and India. A public health crisis as well as an environmental disaster is unfolding. The film estimates that 70% of Asia’s lakes and rivers are now contaminated by this practice. The very same sources of “fresh water” that the region’s populations depend on for drinking and bathing.
A Poisonous Process
Consider your “distressed” jeans, that pair of bleached and torn pants that are always a lot more expensive. To get that “used look” manufacturers run the denim through a process of abuse with harsh chemicals including heavy metals like cadmium, mercury, chromium, copper and lead.
These toxic metals don’t stay at the bottom of Xintang’s rivers, they make their way into the planet’s oceans and atmosphere. Just as your jeans are transported to North American markets, so too will the toxic chemicals eventually make their way to your doorstep. (photo – RiverBlue)
Understanding the Environmental Cost
Francois Girbaud, the designer that introduced the “distressed lived-in” look decades ago, has had a profound change of heart and now admits:
“It took 40 yrs. before we realized what we made and what we did was wrong…If people knew that the spraying of permanganate on your jeans to give you that acid-wash look was killing the guy doing the spraying, would you still want that look? I don’t think the customer is aware of what is happening abroad. We have to change the process of making jeans and brands have to be willing to invest because we are destroying the planet.”
There are options to avoid these destructive manufacturing processes! There are brands of jeans that are made without damaging the environment. Jeanologia is a Spanish manufacturing company “where they distress jeans by engraving images on the fabrics with lasers (light and air) and eliminating water without increasing the cost” says David McIlvride, RiverBlue’s director.
Alex Penades, an exec at Jeanologia, says they began to question their manufacturing processes after a trip to China in the mid 90’s.
“Once we saw the pollution in the rivers and the workers exposed to the chemicals we knew we had to innovate…We started searching for ways to make garments in a more sustainable way. We have been dyeing clothes with water since the beginning of time and we faced the reality that even though it had been done this way in the mass consumer world, it was not sustainable.”
“It took us a while to…convince industrial finishers to make that shift,” but now Jeanologia works with top brands like Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Zara, Mark and Spencer and Levi Strauss. And the company continues to improvise, creating processes like eflow technology that uses air instead of water to dye jeans and make the product soft and wrinkle repellent.
Learn more about where your jeans come from and how they were manufactured, see the entire article in EcoWatch.
By Robert Frerck, Blue Ocean Network
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