Can you think back to the last time you bought a pair of jeans? Most likely you considered just a few factors in your purchase like style, cut or price. The last time I bought a brand-new pair of jeans was a year ago and I got them from the amazing sustainable brand Armed Angels. Fast forward to today and my approach to buying jeans has completely changed: I no longer buy new denim. Whether it’s a denim jacket, shorts or jeans, I find it second hand or vintage. Why? Because the denim production process is one the most environmentally damaging in the clothing industry, it’s also one of the most harmful to people. These horrifying truths gave birth to a personal movement for me that I called #Nonewdenim, a pledge I made to never buy brand new denim ever again. Here’s why I think everyone should get on board with this.
Denim production is destroying the planet and endangering lives
It takes 920 gallons of water, the equivalent of leaving a garden hose on for 106min.
It takes 32 kg of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of powering a computer for 556 hours.
It takes 400 mega joules of energy, the equivalent of driving 78 miles.
All this TO MAKE 1 PAIR OF JEANS.
Xintang, China is the jean capital of the world and produces one jean in three on the market, a total of 300 million jeans in a year. I’ll let you do the math on how devastating that number is in terms of air pollution, as well as water and energy waste.
First, the three processes that cause water pollution are growing cotton, dyeing, then texturizing/finishing the product. The denim production process has the lowest rate of water recycling in the industry. We know that cotton (the number one material in denim) is a fibre that is heavily irrigated, fertilized and uses large amounts of water in its manufacturing and packaging processes, so it often depletes bodies of water.
Secondly, the denim dyeing process involves the use of chemical products and often, in places like Xintang, toxic dye water is dumped into rivers and bodies of waters that millions count on to survive, to drink, cook and bath with. Not to mention that these waters become so toxic that fish can barely thrive in it. Fish is also a source of food, so communities are being deprived from natural food sources and fishermen jobs lost.
Finally, texturizing and finishing denim includes sandblasting, another unique process in its production that not only harms the environment but the people making the products. It involves using fine sand and channeling it into an air gun, it’s then sprayed at high pressure onto denim to create that worn, old look. Its main ingredient, silica, is very harmful to workers.
#Nonewdenim because there is enough denim in the world to stop producing it entirely
Denim is one of the most traded items in the second hand clothing world for one main reason, it is a durable material. Back in the day, the key selling point for denim was that it was made to last, that it could withstand any thing. After all it was the uniform of wild cowboys. Clearly, today denim is over-produced but maybe, just maybe it’s time to stop producing it because there is more than enough denim to go around the world. I believe this can start with the conscious consumer.
Instead of buying new denim, why not drop by your local second hand, vintage or charity store to find a pair of jeans, a denim jacket or even denim shorts. There’s an over 90% chance that you will find one that fits. This idea is at the heart of the #Nonewdenim movement is this: why buy new denim and support its destructive production process when you can get almost any type of denim second hand? I’ve heard many counter-arguments to this like it’s hard to find diversity in sizes. Actually, there are different types of second-hand stores that carry a variety of jean styles and sizes.
The last two pair of jeans I bought are a pair of black Levi’s and a pair of blue Calvin Kleins, all second hand, cheaper and just as good as a new pair. It just takes a bit more time to look for that perfect pair but it’s also worth it because it means supporting local businesses while creating a circular fashion economy and helping towards preserving the planet.
Best places to find secondhand denim + how to take care of your denim
I find that the best way to look for secondhand or vintage denim is to go to secondhand stores. Almost every vintage or secondhand store has a denim section because it is the most traded type of garment in that world. So drive into these stores and have a look, I'm almost 100% certain that you'll find something that suits you. If you are looking for online options, I usually go for ASOS marketplace, Depop or Vinted.
I don’t discredit people who would rather buy new than second hand. I understand the unease of wearing someone’s old clothes or the difficulty that comes with finding the perfect size depending on how you are built. However, if buying second hand or vintage proves too difficult, why not go for ethical and sustainable options? The denim industry is changing and there are key players with key innovations approaching the production process very differently. For example, Jeanologia is an innovative company with the goal of developing sustainable and eco-efficient technologies for the garment finishing industry. They use laser and ecosystems that reduce water and energy consumption while eliminating damaging emissions and waste. Another such company is Italdenim, which is also making strives for alternative ways of making denim. This is the future and I’m here for it.
In terms of brands people can turn to for sustainable and ethical denim, the list is endless, but my top recommendations would be Armed Angels and MUD Jeans. These brands know the struggle of producing denim sustainably and ethically and put in a positive and industry-changing effort to do so, providing the consumer with the ease of shopping responsibly.
We all love denim, it’s such a trustworthy material. On top of learning about its impact and how to consume it more consciously, it is also crucial to know how to take care of it.
Here are a few tips to practice:
– Wash your denim less because it is such a tough material, it doesn’t need to be washed so often unless you want to create that washed out look. – To wash them: soak your jeans in a bucket or the tub in cool-to-lukewarm water for 20 minutes with a cup full of gentle soap and then rinse. – If you get a stain on them, instead of a full wash, sponge out the stain as soon as you can, stains come out easily on denim compared to most textiles. – Want the complete washed out look? Over time and with several washes, your denim will naturally look worn but still cool. Why buy washed out denim made with chemicals?