Denim and How our Brands Approach Sustainability
Of the numerous fabrics and materials that make up our clothing, denim is, unfortunately, one of the least sustainable. We have written previously about sustainable fabric options and, generally speaking, denim does not make the cut. The production of just one pair of jeans, from growing the cotton to dyeing and finishing the denim, uses a staggering 10,000 litres of water — some estimates even place this figure up towards 20,000 litres.
There are several ways brands are changing their production methods to become more sustainable, with water-usage being just one factor. Increasingly, designers are modernising their practices to reduce water waste and chemical use, with Levi's being one of the brands at the beginning of their sustainability journey.
Top Tip: If you are interested in shopping eco-consciously, we have a handy Earth-Friendly filtering tool on our website
What is Denim?
Denim is made from cotton, which is nicknamed "the thirsty crop" due to its immense water needs. It takes 10,000 - 20,000 litres of water to grow just one kilogram of cotton, but unbelievably the majority of the water-waste in denim production comes from the dyeing and treatment of the finished pair. Getting that unmistakable stonewashed look, or the perfectly worn finish, takes a lot of water, and the runoffs are often toxic and contaminate local water sources.
With that said, practices are being implemented within the garment manufacturing industry that significantly lower the water-use of denim. These might be revolutionary innovations in the finishing process or things like closed-loop recycling principles. Closed-loop recycling is where the final item is fully-recyclable. When applied to jeans, it looks something like this: the cotton in denim is separated and respun with other renewable materials, such as Tencel, and this recycled fabric is then used to make a new pair of jeans. The cycle can be repeated indefinitely, making it a closed-loop principle. This method uses six-times less water because the manufacturers aren't having to grow and maintain new cotton crops, and Tencel itself is an incredibly sustainable option (as we discovered in our feature, Clothing Materials Explained). You can learn more about these innovations in this short and informative video from the BBC.
The fashion industry is becoming increasingly eco-conscious and some designers, such as Stella McCartney Kids, opt for organic cotton. Organic cotton is free from toxic pesticides and fertilisers, keeping local farmers and their communities safe from contamination. IKKS also have a line of denim made from recycled plastic and other eco-friendly materials. Levi's are another designer looking to lessen their impact on the planet. This is where their Water<Less® technique comes in, which reduces the water used in the finishing stage by up to 96%. Furthermore, Levi's have put the planet before profit and opened up their techniques to allow other brands to replicate in their respective factories.
Levi's Top Tips
Levi's have also set several future sustainability goals that they are on track to meet, which include a recycling program and the banning of known toxic chemicals from their supply chain. It is great to see brands working on positive climate action, but there are also things you can do to minimise your impact when caring for your denim. Levi's sum these up in three main points;
1. Wash your denim less. You will preserve the colour, fabric, and a lot of water if you wait longer to start up the washing machine.
2. If you do wash them, make sure it is always on a cold wash to save energy.
3. Between washes, you can hang your jeans in the sun to kill bacteria.
All images by Levi's
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