For anyone who doesn’t get the title reference, please first enjoy a musical education.
The average lifespan of a pair of jeans is 4 years.
But I seem to wear through a pair every couple of months.
What is Fast Fashion?
Fast fashion is a trend which has emerged over the last decade or so.
In order to fuel our consumerism habits, large clothing manufacturers started making more clothes, for cheaper, with much worse quality.
This is something called planned obsolescence: clothes are intentionally made badly, so that they break and you have to return to the shop and spend more money in replacing them. This creates a high turnover of goods: thus higher profits for high street retailers.
The standard flow for a piece of ‘fast fashion’ (i.e. those 3 for £5 Primarni t-shirts):
Factory floor → Shop floor → Bedroom floor → Landfill
Therefore, fast fashion is not only a false economy (as all of your money ends up in landfill rather than your wardrobe), but it is also incredibly bad for the environment..
The creation of a pair of jeans
Not many people realise quite how much energy and water is used during the manufacture of clothing: especially those which have to be dyed and treated.
Now denim is unfortunately one of the worst culprits. It is made mainly from cotton: a crop which requires huge amounts of water in order to be grown in the first place.
Once the raw cotton has been grown, it will be processed into a usable fabric. In order to turn this fabric into a pair of jeans, manufacturers will then use loads more water, energy and chemicals to soak, dye and treat the denim… before cutting and sewing the fabric patterns together. Finally, once created, the jeans need to be shipped to wherever they are going to be sold. For more info, see this video about How Jeans Are Made
The average footprint of a single pair of jeans is estimated to be:
Water: 13,000 litres
…and a myriad of other toxic chemicals thrown in for good measure.
This footprint doesn’t take into account any further ‘downstream’ impacts of my pair of jeans. Such as the amount of water needed for every time I wash my jeans, or the pollution that is created and the chemicals which are released every time a pair of jeans ends up in landfill.
Now I don’t know about you, but I think that this whole thing is ridiculous.
13,000 LITRES OF WATER FOR ONE PAIR OF JEANS.
It’s absolutely crazy to think that the item of clothing that I wear more or less everyday has had such a massive impact on the environment. Therefore, I have decided that this cycle of buying a new pair of jeans every couple of months needs to stop.
So the first way to make my jeans more sustainable, is to start wearing each pair for a longer period of time. And for that, I need to be buying better quality jeans.
It’s always in the same place that I get the holes in my jeans (on my inner thigh), so I thought I’d do a little investigating into the quality of the jeans that I’m buying.
It turns out that ladies jeans (and skinny jeans in general) tend to have higher quantities of lycra and elastane included within the fabric, in order to be more fitted and ‘hug my curves’. Lycra and elastane are much less durable than cotton, and become weakened and stretched by washing and friction.
Therefore, me wearing my jeans for cycling around and getting dirty, and also just the general act of walking (which makes my thighs rub together, as it does with many girls) is probably not going to improve their durability a whole lot.
In order to get some good quality jeans that are likely to last much longer, I concluded a few things:
1. Stop buying these ‘super skinny’ ‘super soft’ rubbishy type jeans. They may fit better, but they’re not going to last very long. Instead buy jeans which are as close to 100% cotton as possible.
2. Stop washing my jeans so often. Not only is every wash adding to the already ridiculous water footprint of each pair, but it’s also softening the material and shortening the lifespan of my jeans. (Sorry mum, I’m going to start looking even more like a tramp, but do remember I’m saving the world here).
So now I’ve got the quality issue sorted, maybe I can start thinking about other factors.
SO… is there such a thing as Sustainable Jeans?
WELL. In addition to all of the environmental stuff I listed above, there are also human and social impacts to consider in the world of fashion. For instance, there’s no point in my jeans being made from organic cotton with zero chemicals and a positive water footprint, if they were actually sewn together by child labour. All of these things make jean-buying a bit confusing, as it leads to some jeans being coined ‘ethical’ or ‘responsible’ or ‘sustainable’, dependent on which of the factors have been suitably “ticked off” during the manufacturing process.
Overall though, I’m very happy to say that there’s plenty of people out there who are trying to make denim better. I’m going to tell you about some of them now, so that you can put down your GAPs and your H&Ms and start shopping from this lot instead.
Monkee Genes – an independent UK label with an eco and ethical conscience.
MUD jeans – a dutch company trying to create a ‘closed loop’ denim production, and encouraging customers to lease rather than buy their jeans.
Nudie jeans – a Swedish jeans company committed to 100% organic cotton, transparent production and free repairs.
If anyone knows of any other eco/ethical/sustainable jeans, please comment below!!
Jeans: Sustain ABLE or UNABLE?
ALAS. Being sustainable in the jeans department still isn’t that easy. Although all of the companies I’ve listed above are great (cracking work guys, keep it up), if you’re anything like me, you like to try on a pair of jeans before you commit to the purchase… and all of the above are available online only – and in fact, the majority are based outside of the UK, so shipping costs/impacts are pretty hefty in themselves. There shall be no popping down to the local high street to purchase some sustainable jeans unfortunately.
So, what to do?
Well that’s a hard one isn’t it. Do I go on buying jeans from the high street? I can try them on, they’re cheap, I’m probably going to be able to find some which fit reasonably well in a short period of time… but they’re super bad for the environment, won’t last me very long and will probably end up in landfill.
OR do I invest a lot of my time in conducting some research, spend a slightly larger amount of money, and give a whole lot of trust (in accurate sizing) and order some ‘sustainable’ jeans online?
So I think you know the answer to that one. Although I’ve still got a lot to learn in terms of sustainable fashion, I’ve got to start somewhere – so I’ve just bitten the bullet and ordered myself some Nudie jeans.
Although they’re Swedish they have a repair shop in Shoreditch (where else!?), so feel pretty happy that I can get my jeans repaired easily if necessary.
So hopefully they’ll last me until longer than August, but only time will tell…
In the mean time, until they arrive, this morning I reclaimed some of my sister’s jeans which were otherwise destined for the charity shop… and have bought myself a new needle and thread, with the intention of turning my old jeans into a new pair of espadrilles.
Who says sustainability can’t be fun hey?