It’s fair to say that jeans are an essential item in almost everyone’s wardrobes these days. What’s not fair however is the impact of these jeans on the people who made them, and on the planet. The denim industry is truly gigantic. How many pairs of jeans do you own right now? How many have you owned in your life so far? How many more pairs will you buy? Hopefully, after reading this, you’ll consider buying less, and, as Vivien Westwood advises, choosing well and making them last.
What’s the problem then? Well, there are many. First off, denim, as I’m sure you are aware, is made of cotton. Cotton plants require a vast amount of water. Given that these plants are grown in countries where water isn’t always free flowing, I’m sure you see the problem. Oh and in case you’re wondering just how much water I’m talking about – production of a single pair of jeans typically uses 11,000 litres. Think about that for a minute. That’s just for one pair. The cotton is turned into denim, which is then dyed (using a lot of water), producing ‘waste water’ that ends up in rivers. It’s not exactly good for the people and animals dependent on them to say the least.
Additionally, the cotton industry uses a phenomenal quantity of pesticides. In fact it accounts for 11% of global pesticide sales. These pesticides are incredibly harmful to the farmers using them (who are not given adequate protection in many cases) and between 25 million and 77 million farmers worldwide suffer from acute pesticide poisoning, which can result in death.
Anything else? Since you asked, yes there is. Lets have a brief chat about sweatshops. If you think that your jeans are being made by healthy, happy individuals, I’m afraid to say that they almost certainly weren’t. Regardless of how much you paid for them, be it £10 from Primark, £50 from Boden or £100 from Levi, chances are, the person who made them was paid the same dismal wage and treated in ways we cannot imagine. The majority of workers in the garment industry are young women who have no choice but to accept work, even when pay doesn’t cover the cost of living. You don’t have to do much research to uncover the disgusting treatment of these workers. They have no rights and are forced to work in dreadful, often dangerous conditions.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t tolerate the idea of wearing a piece of clothing that was created in this way. I just can’t give my money to an industry that doesn’t bat an eyelid at treating human beings, and the planet, in such an abhorrent manner.
The solution? Well, the simplest is to buy no jeans at all. To stop putting money into the machine. Reduce demand and send a message. But, like most of you I’m sure, I really like jeans. So I am committing to only owning two pairs at a time – one black and one blue. I am also committing to buying only from brands that I feel are sincerely ticking the ethical box. If you don’t know whether your jeans are, take a look on the manufactures website. If they are not shouting from the rooftops about being ethical or fair trade, then most likely, they are anything but.
As far as ethical/sustainable denim brands go, I am by no means an expert. I bought my first pair of Monkee Genes in February and have been enjoying them immensely (as you can tell from the pictures I’m sure!). Monkee Genes are a UK based company who produce contemporary denim wear that is made with ‘no salve labour, no child labour, no blood, no sweat and no tears.’ The fact that this makes them pretty unique in the denim industry is disturbing. They have a range that are made here in the UK and an organic range. Regardless which you choose, they state that everyone involved in the production of each pair was paid a decent wage. Oh, and they’re vegan (no leather belt patch). Personally I love the brand. They have a great range of products and a good choice of sizes and lengths.
The pair I’m wearing here are the Women’s Black Denim Made in England Silhouette Skinnys. I’m 5’4 and a size 10 and went for 30R if you’re interested. They are comfortable, flexible and I think they look pretty decent too (see the Monkee Genes website for infinitely better pictures of more stylish people wearing them!). They work perfectly as casual jeans but as the stitching is subtle, I’ve also worn them to work with brogues or boots and got away with it, despite our ‘no denim’ policy (shhh). They are quite low rise though so perhaps not a style that’s for everyone. Take a look at the website though – there’s a lot of choice.
I should also mention that they are not cheap. Well, not for me anyway. However, until fairly recently I was doing this ridiculous thing where I’d buy a cheap pair from a supermarket, or Primark and wear them for as long as they lasted (about 6 months) and then go back and buy more. Thinking about this makes me want to hit myself repeatedly in the face with a wet trainer. It makes no sense. What makes total sense is to save up, buy a good pair (made well and fairly) and not to buy another pair for a number of years. Genius.
If you know of any good ethical denim brands, please get in touch. I’ll be looking for a dark blue pair in the near future.