Making a pair of jeans is a very dirty, very toxic process. Xintang, China is known as the denim capital of the world and it is so polluted that the locals say you can't even give the houses away to get people to live there.
Yet, the factories there produce about 300 million denim articles a year. The water in the East river has turned indigo blue and smells toxic. This river is the only source of drinking water for millions of people that live downriver in cities such as Guangzhou. Villagers nearby say that the dirty water is no longer fit for drinking or laundry. Fish have died out.
That cool distressed denim wash on your latest pair of designer jeans is the result of several chemical-intensive washes. The dying and washing process involves such heavy metals as cadmium, lead and mercury. Some estimates suggest that producing one pair of jeans requires more than 2,500 gallons of water, nearly a pound of chemicals and vast amounts of energy. Perhaps this is why the fashion industry is the second largest consumer and polluter of water.
There is a new, cleaner process that is emerging called advanced denim. It can produce a pair of jeans using up to 92 percent less water and up to 30 percent less energy than conventional denim manufacturing methods. Unlike conventional denim production methods, which require up to 15 dyeing vats and an array of potentially harmful chemicals, Advanced Denim uses just one vat and a new generation of eco-advanced, concentrated, liquid sulfur dyes that require only a single, sugar-based reducing agent. If even just 25% of the world's denim was produced this way it would save enough water to cover the needs of 1.7 million people every year!
Or what about all the denim that has already been produced over the years that is still wearable and usable. If we can save old jeans from ending up in our landfills, perhaps we won't need to make so many new pairs each year to be consumed and then tossed.
So, keep your old jeans; wear them longer, and buy vintage and upcycled products when you can.