According to a recent piece from Die, Workwear!, the scale at which denim is currently being produced and consumed is making it downright caustic to the environment.
“We love jeans because of what they symbolize – hard nosed, working class values – but our consumer behavior tells a different story.” As the article explains, the “average American consumer [now] buys four new pairs per year,” indicating that, like so much else of the American wardrobe, jeans have come to be seen as “semi-disposable items.”
And that’s troubling enough on its own. But when you then factor in how environmentally damaging modern denim production processes are – especially dying – we’re suddenly looking at a full-on ecological disaster. The ground zero of which, is Xintang, China.
Xintang produces about 300 million pairs of jeans a year, or “roughly one in three sold globally,” and is so polluted “property owners can’t even give homes away.” As described by China Dialogue, “the air stinks of sulphur and ditches are full of dark blue water. Trees along the road have strips of blue cloth hanging from them, the dust in the roads is light blue. The water in all the streams in the area apart from one is black and stinking and the White River is the worst; the slow flowing water is as black as Chinese ink.”
But it’s not just synthetically-dyed, Chinese-made denim that’s the problem. According to the article, the naturally-dyed artisan stuff is bad, too (sorry Okayama-headz). “Plant-derived indigo… doesn’t dissolve easily in water. So it has to undergo several chemical treatments, some involving toxic materials… [that] can leave workers with some serious health problems.”
So what are we to do (if we don’t want to give up our denim)? *drum roll* “Buy less, buy better. Wear what you own until its end-of-life, then repair and wear some more. Avoid fast fashion like the plague and don’t buy things that will just wind-up in a landfill… Also, wash your clothes only when necessary.”
You can read more about it at Die, Workwear!