Your best pair of jeans. You know them, you love them — we all have them. Perhaps they’re deep blue bootcuts, lightwash mom jeans, or black skinnies. No matter the color, cut, or style, they make you feel good, put a pep in your step, and empower you to take on the day. But, the truth behind your favorite denim may not have the same effect.
Fast fashion, defined as inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-maket retailers in response to the latest trends, has quite the environmental footprint, in addition to grave humanitarian concerns. Let’s take a look at some of the many ethical and sustainability issues that are often attached to a cheap price tag.
What makes the jeans we know and love?
It starts with cotton, a notoriously thirsty, chemical-reliant crop. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the production of a mere 2.2 pounds of cotton calls for 7,660 gallons of water. We’ll spare you the math, but it’s estimated that 2 billion pairs of jeans are made annually. That’s a lot of water — water that can be spared. If that weren’t enough, the process of cotton production is no stranger to harmful chemicals. In fact, for every nine ounces of cotton (most jeans use 12 to 14 ounces), growers use an average of 17 teaspoons of chemical fertilizers and nearly a teaspoon of active ingredients including pesticides, herbicides, insecticides and defoliants.
So, we’ve got the pants, but how do we achieve that rich, classic blue shade?
Ideally, the process would begin with real indigo from the Indigofera plant, a plant species from the bean family that is found in tropical and subtropical regions across the globe. To cut down on costs, clothing manufacturers began to use synthetic dyes to achieve the same look of the natural plant dye — and many of them haven’t stopped since. Statistics show that 99% of all denim is dyed with synthetic indigo, which can contain cyanide, formaldehyde, and aniline. Formaldehyde, when broken down, releases formic acid and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, posing significant risks for workers, aquatic life, and existing water supplies. We pay close attention to the ingredients in the food we eat, the makeup we apply, and the products we use — and now it’s time to pay attention to the substances and materials that make up the clothes we wear.
A Trip to the Denim Capital of the World
Acid-washed, light-washed, stone-washed, vintage-washed, and even textured jeans require added treatments, chemicals, and water use. The overall production of the jeans we love to buy require significant amounts of — you guessed it — water, which often gets tossed back into the environment carelessly.
Xintang, China, nicknamed “The Denim Capital of the World”, has faced the dangerous consequences of mass-produced jeans firsthand. After manufacturers had dumped chemical-laden wastewater into local waterways, the river ran deep blue, had a foul smell, and had high levels of toxic chemicals like mercury, lead, and copper. The residents and workers, who depend on the local water supply to cook and bathe, were most at risk and many experienced rashes, lesions, and some experts say that the contaminated water has been linked to infertility.
It’s easy to love bargain prices for staple clothing items like jeans — but at what cost? It’s clear that the production of a single pair of jeans has important implications for our local, national and global communities — and let’s not forget about the future generations who are likely to face the effects of unconscious consumerism.
But, don’t worry! You don’t have to ditch your baby blues. There are a multitude of ways to shop ethically, revolutionize your existing wardrobe and feel good about the process.
Just Like New Jeans
Tired of your basic, straight-leg jeans that you hardly ever wear? Don’t throw them out. Here’s a list of foolproof ways to transform your old jeans into a piece that feels and looks just like new:
- Open up your craft drawer and get creative with old fabric patches, pearls, studs, fringe, or even pom poms.
- Grab your scissors and create the distressed look of your dreams, right from the comfort of your living room.
- Try embroidery! Whether you’d like to stitch an intricate flower on the back pocket or a few simple lines, embroidery takes your well-loved jeans to the next level.
- Cuff your jeans for a different look.
- Fray the hem of your jeans.
- Experiment with iron-on patches of your choice.
- Is summer just around the corner? Use some heavy-duty scissors to cut your jeans into completely customizable denim shorts.
Invest in ~That~ Pair of Jeans
Take a glance at the outfit you’re currently wearing. As much as you love it, chances are it may be out of style within the next month. Trend cycles are the basis of fast fashion, and in 2022, they’re cycling at a more rapid pace than ever before. The emergence of microtrends, primarily promoted by social media influencers and celebrities, leads to intense rates of oversaturation and overconsumption of singular items.
Purchasing a timeless, classic pair of jeans is a smart investment. You’ll wear and love them for years to come, without worrying about outgrowing the trend cycles. Skinny jeans, mom jeans, wide legs, and flares are examples of classic staple pieces. Find the style that flatters your silhouette most and stick to it!
Skip the Wash
Okay, hear us out on this one.
Each time we wash our clothes, microscopic string-like particles come loose. These particles then flow out of our washing machines, into our drains, and emerge into our surrounding rivers, lakes and oceans. A study conducted at the University of Toronto in Ontario found that 500 microfibers (from our jeans) per wash end up polluting our aquatic environments.
How often do you wash your jeans? The general consensus is after 3–5 wears, right?
There’s no magic number, but many denim aficionados will say, “Never!” Gewn Whiting and Linsey Boyd, co-founders of The Laundress, estimate that you should wash your jeans every 10 wears.
If you’re not ready to jump on the “Skip the Wash!” train just yet, try freezing your jeans and hanging them outside to reduce the amount of washes.
This is a true win-win situation. Washing your jeans less is better for the environment, keeps your jeans looking newer longer, and cuts down on your own laundry loads. What’s not to love?
The road to ethical consumption is a long one, but the first step is education. Before you add another denim piece to your wardrobe, try using a website like EthicalConsumer.com to find the ratings on your favorite brands. If the results are disappointing, shop around to find ethical, eco-friendly brands that will leave you looking and feeling good.
Don’t have time to research ethical clothing companies? Worried about breaking the bank to afford your ethical consumption choices? You’re in the right place. Makeena lives on your iPhone and works to connect you to brands that love the shopper (you!) and the planet. And, by shopping with Makeena, you’ll earn cash back rewards for supporting brands that care about doing good — for you, us, the place we call home, and the generations to come.
You’ve taken the first step in becoming a conscious consumer and you’re well on your way to finding your new favorite pair of jeans. Shop with Makeena, and we’ll help you find the pair that help you look good and feel empowered to take on the day — whatever it may bring. And this time — you’ll feel great about hitting “Add to cart!”