No, your eyes don’t deceive you. Blue jeans are getting greener—figuratively speaking, anyway.
It was only a matter of time before the humble workwear staple-turned-fashion essential reinvented itself. As shoppers begin to look askance at products that don’t dovetail with their values, denim’s reputation as a resource-hungry pollution powerhouse hasn’t served it well.
Environmental groups like Greenpeace have long flogged indigo dyeing for transforming the world’s once-pristine waterways, from the Pearl River Delta in China to the Citarum River in Indonesia, into fetid broths of heavy metals and other hazardous substances.
Sandblasting, a technique that distresses jeans by pummeling them with abrasive crystalline silica, often in the absence of adequate ventilation, can cause severe respiratory problems for workers, resulting in fatal diseases such as silicosis and lung cancer.
Even cotton farming itself is an inordinately thirsty and chemical-intensive beast. Although the fiber accounts for 2.4 percent of the world’s cropland, according to industry figures, it uses up 24 percent of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. About half of the 2,000 gallons of water that goes into a pair of jeans stems from cotton agriculture.
All of which is to say, denim’s evocation of blue skies and open prairies doesn’t come without its tolls.