“To create one kilogram of conventional cotton (roughly the amount needed for a shirt and a pair of jeans) can take an astounding 10,000–20,000 litres of water,” reads just one of the jaw-dropping facts on the sustainability manifesto of leading luxury denim brand M.i.h Jeans.
There are so many factors when it comes to creating sustainable (let alone ethical) denim: Firstly, there’s the fact that the extraction of cotton (which is what denim is made of) is by far the largest contributing factor towards water wastage and water pollution in the world. Secondly, the overproduction of cotton damages fertile ground, and that’s before we even start to tackle nonorganic processes, which can include workers and the land being exposed to terrifying amounts of dangerous chemicals.
“There are people around the world who struggle to get clean water, and here we are as first-world consumers abusing clean water by using it to make jeans and then in the process dumping and polluting the clean water sources,” Jordan Nodarse, the founder of sustainable denim brand Boyish Jeans, tells me. “This includes the amount of water and pesticides that are used in growing the cotton for denim, which makes up 60% of a jeans’ water usage.”
Then there’s the production of the jeans. Who’s making them, what are the conditions and in which country are they manufactured? How about all of the little details one might overlook, such as zippers, buttons and cotton stitching? What happens when dyeing isn’t regulated? Where are the final products shipped from, and how? What’s the packaging made of? It’s overwhelming and complex, I know.
However, the denim industry is also one that hosts changemakers; forward-thinking brands and people have been using it as a springboard for launching more sustainable practices. With denim as the very backbone of the Western world’s wardrobe, it’s a very worthwhile place to begin.
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