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A Guide To Buying Sustainable Denim

An item of denim clothing will likely be part of everyone’s capsule wardrobe, yet it is not commonly known just how bad this staple material is for the environment.  

Image Soure: @levis

Why is denim so harmful?

A key part of the damage denim does to our environment is how much water is required for its production. Fashion Revolution finds that just one of our loved pairs of jeans uses around 9,500 litres of water across its production timeline. Denim not only uses water intensive cotton but the actual process requires an extensive washing and rinsing cycle.  

The varying finishes that we desire our denim to have require chemical mixtures that are also very harmful to the environment. Poorly treated workers are often exposed to harmful chemicals, such as cyanide, bringing an abundance of health risks. Rivers that thread through key textile manufacturing districts in China are known for their toxicity and changing colours due to the chemicals used by the factories. As you can imagine, this has a devastating impact on wildlife and the civilians in villages who rely on local streams of water.   

It’s distressing to find out one of your favourite items of clothing is causing so much damage, right? The thing is, it is still so widely unknown as brands (for obvious reasons) aren’t wanting to shout about just how their denim is made. It took me studying a whole fashion degree to become aware of the impacts.  

This doesn’t mean we have to stop purchasing denim all together though – just a little more care and thought has to be put into what we are buying. Something I have learnt is that sustainable denim often comes hand in hand with quality and longevity, so really, it’s a win-win situation. If you are like me, and jeans make at least a bi-weekly appearance in the outfits you wear, it makes sense to invest in a quality pair that feel and look good. 

Some key questions to ask yourself when buying denim are –  

Will these last me a long time?

Consider both the quality of the material and the style. Jeans are pretty timeless, but make sure they’re a pair you know you will love and wear time and time again. Brands such as Levi’s are great for their sustainable initiatives and constant innovation, but you can also rely on them for a pair of jeans that will last in both their quality and style. Buy the jeans or jacket that you absolutely fall in LOVE with. We all know how we like our jeans to fit, perfect snugness and length that perfectly suit us. By spending time shopping around for the best, you know it’s going to get endless use. 

What are the impacts on the environment?

As we know, one of the fundamental issues with denim is the cotton used. It is important therefore to understand exactly what materials have been used, and their impact. There is so much going on in the way of material innovation, such as regeneratively grown cotton, or non-traditional materials such as hemp. Is the brand using organic cotton? Or an alternative material that has a lessened impact? Brands such as Nudie Jeans use 100% organic cotton, without any toxic chemicals and also ensure the preservation of the soil for future agricultural use. Premium denim brand DL19161 recycles both old denim and also post-consumer waste to create their pieces, with waterless technology used in production that cuts water usage down from 1500 gallons to less than 10.  

Image source: Levi’s

Do I know exactly where these jeans have come from?

Being able to trace the origins of the denim is so important. If a brand has nothing to hide then they will be able to show exactly where the denim has come from. More and more brands are introducing ways in which consumers can see where their exact item has come from. One example is Reformation with their ‘Farm to Butt’ scheme, and another is Levi’s and their collaboration with The R Collective. This way you can understand more about the carbon footprint, the farms and the factories that the denim has been through. 

One final point that goes beyond simply buying denim but is just as important for sustainability is aftercare. Make sure you read up on the suggested aftercare for denim clothes to ensure they can last, that water use is minimised post-production and also so that they can eventually be recycled!

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